By December 30, 2009 0 Comments Read More →

A Lovely Lamentation

lamentationI’m a firm believer that book groups of all varieties would do well to add genre fiction to their schedules. Ken Scholes’ first novel, Lamentation, makes a fine case in point.

Lamentation is the story of a post apocalyptic world, possibly our own, where an order of monks have carefully catalogued and guarded the fragments of the knowledge of the past (shades of Walter Miller’s classic SF, A Canticle for Liebowitz, but this is a different animal). As the novel opens, the great city Windowir, where these Androfrancines collect their knowledge, is destroyed in cataclysmic explosion.

Scholes tells the story from the stances of several narrators: the evil warrior king Sethbert; a dashing gypsy forest king named Rudolfo; the consort Jin Lee Tam, originally with Sethbert, but later with Rudolfo; a young monk named Neb who is out of the city when it is destroyed; and Petronus, a mysterious man who walked away from power in the past. To this cast, Scholes adds a slew of interesting supporting characters, particularly Isaak, a mournful, sentient mechanical man who probably spoke the “spell” that destroyed Windiwir, but was most likely programmed into the act. The first reason this book is of interest to book groups is the strength, diversity, and emotional power of the relationships between these characters. Yes, it’s a fantasy world, but the emotions are real and frequently quite moving.

The book is full of interesting themes for discussion. Could the “magic” in this novel be science as the people of this world understand it? Should we protect and preserve dangerous knowledge, and if so, at what cost? When one is manipulated by others into bad actions, to what degree is one culpable for the results? To what degree can a person’s character be shaped by such manipulations? Can one walk away from roles of responsibility? Are there allusions to the bible in the names of characters here? Perhaps most important, how does one pick up the pieces when the world as one has known it comes to a sudden end?

This is the first book in a series, and the finish hints of much more to come (the second book, Canticle, is already out) but don’t let that stop you from using Lamentation in a book group. Readers will have plenty to discuss and speculate about whether or not they decide to continue the Psalms of Isaak. One more reason that this makes a fine first fantasy for book groups is that it is shorter than many epic fantasies, a reasonable 368 pages that will fit into the typical group’s time frame.

As Orson Scott Card’s cover blurb indicates, we’re in the midst of a golden age for fantasy literature (and the same can be said for many other genres).  Don’t let your group miss out on the pleasures of genre fiction because of misguided stereotypes.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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