The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey – A Review

The Book of Koli (Rampart Trilogy #1) by M.R. Carey
Science Fiction | Post-Apocalyptic
Published by Orbit
Released 14 April 2020
Goodreads | Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As someone whose favorite genre is post-apocalyptic, I have very high standards for it. Few books reach the god-tier of the genre, like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Stephen King’s The Stand. So many new post-apocalyptic books fall into the trap of cliches and over-used scenarios. To my absolute delight, M. R. Carey’s The Book of Koli, exceeding my expectations. While not in the god-tier category, it’s a contribution to the genre and a book that I can’t stop recommending.

The Book of Koli follows a teenage boy named Koli who lives in Mythen Rood, a small, walled city in Britain. The outside world is hostile: humanity has destroyed itself in the Unfinished War, and genetically-engineered trees have become violent. While there are other villages, they are too far apart for easy communication and trade, so to the people of Mythen Rood, they are essentially alone.

In Mythen Rood, the community is controlled by Ramparts, people who have been able to speak to ancient technology. Technology is seen as sacred due to both its rareness and the lack of knowledge about it. Everyone in the village has an opportunity to test their ability to “wake” a piece of technology to become a Rampart, but almost everyone walks away disappointed.

Koli wants more than anything to be a Rampart, but his dreams are dashed when he fails to wake any technology. However, he doesn’t give up and makes a series of questionable and brave choices to try again. As a consequence, he finds himself exiled from Mythen Rood. People in the village rarely leave the safety of the walls, so everything is new to Koli. He’s forced to use his own wits and abilities to survive in a very dangerous world.

Technology versus humanity is an old trope in post-apocalyptic and science fiction literature, but M.R. Carey puts a unique spin on it, making it feel fresh. More than anything, The Book of Koli is about constructs of society, blind faith, and corruptibility.

One aspect of this book that I wasn’t crazy over was that the trees had been bred to walk and consume flesh. It was too outlandish for me, but not out of bounds for science fiction. It’s a personal preference that I didn’t enjoy this element, so for many of you, it might not be an issue. Fortunately, that part of the book is a background element that provides life to the setting but doesn’t influence much else.

I was fascinated by the societies made by the remnants of humanity. While Mythen Rood is the focus of much of this first book of the Rampart Trilogy, we also meet a large group of people living in a tunnel and worshiping their messiah, Senlas. In both instances, the communities have almost blind faith in their leadership, whether that’s a group of technology-baring politicians and a religious prophet.

The people in the world are very isolated from one another, and as a result, there’s very little genetic diversity. Koli comes to realize the dangers of this with the help of his friend Ursula, a traveling doctor who he unexpectedly runs into outside of Mythen Rood’s gates. As a result of both a dwindling population and reduced gene pool, people are no longer successfully having children. Communities are at constant risk of dying off, and Koli wants to do something about it. From the ending of The Book of Koli, the second book in this trilogy will focus more on Koli’s efforts to do just that.

The first several chapters of this book were difficult to read due to Koli’s vernacular. People in his world are poorly educated in reading and writing, and it shows in the book, which is in the format of a diary written by Koli. One of the first examples I found in the book was in the first chapter: “Judging is what them that listen does for them that tell.” Sentence structure, misspellings, and bizarre wording can make parts of this book hard to read. There were a few moments early on when I considered DNF-ing it due to this element. I’m very happy that I stuck with it, however, because eventually you stop noticing it as much and the story takes off.

Despite Koli being 15 at the start of the book, I would not call this a young adult novel, although I have seen it classified as such. It reads as adult science fiction and deals with mature ideas. While there’s no explicit or graphic scenes, this is a pretty dark novel that I would definitely catalogue as adult fiction.

The Book of Koli is meant to be read as a trilogy, not as individual books. While there is an “end” to this first book, it’s really just setting up the next two novels in the series. Usually, I like each book in a series being their own self-contained story, but it didn’t bother me so much in this instance. I was incredibly intrigued and do want to read the rest of the story, and readers won’t have to wait for the next books. The publisher’s plan for the trilogy is to release all three books within 10 months. As someone who has absolutely no patience, I’m thrilled that they’re publishing the books as quickly as they are.

If you like post-apocalyptic stories or stories that involve nature trying to tear down humanity, then I very much recommend The Book of Koli. I’m eagerly waiting to read the second installation, The Trials of Koli, which is already out, along with the forthcoming final book in the trilogy, The Fall of Koli. M. R. Carey has created a unique world that asks us hard questions about society, and it’s very much worth the read.

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