The Trials of Koli by M R Carey

September 25, 2020

Please note The Trials of Koli is a direct sequel to The Book of Koli. If you haven’t read book one of The Rampart trilogy the review that follows will likely contain minor spoilers. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Beyond the walls of Koli’s small village lies a fearsome landscape filled with choker trees, vicious beasts and shunned men. As an exile, Koli’s been forced to journey out into this mysterious, hostile world. But he heard a story, once. A story about lost London, and the mysterious tech of the Old Times that may still be there. If Koli can find it, there may still be a way for him to redeem himself – by saving what’s left of humankind.

I’m on holiday this week, and the plan was to take a break from the reading and reviewing. It’s not often I get the opportunity to recharge the old mental batteries. All was going to plan until I spotted The Trials of Koli by M R Carey on my leaning tower of books. I couldn’t help but start reading, and once I had done that, I just couldn’t wait to share my thoughts. I read the first book in The Rampart trilogy, The Book of Koli, roughly this time last year. I come baring glad tidings to one and all, The Book of Koli was good and The Trials of Koli is even better.

Koli has accepted that his fate lies outside the valley he grew up in. The mysteries of the old world are just too compelling. Koli needs to know why nature has turned against man, why technology caused the downfall of humanity. Koli understands that most difficulty of truths, if you don’t learn from mistakes of the past you are doomed to repeat them. To survive in the new world the old knowledge of must be regained. On the road with the high-tech medicine woman, Ursula, the ex-cult member Cup and artificial intelligence Monono Aware our hero is slowly learning how the world works outside the little bubble he was used to.

There is a lot of distrust in this merry little band. Ursula is dubious of Monono’s motives, Monono reciprocates. Cup finds it hard to break away from the religious indoctrination she was subjected to, and struggles with defining her sense of self. Koli has come to rely on his surrogate family, no matter how dysfunctional they may be, and is constantly trying to bring them all closer together. I love the group dynamic and how you can see it change as they go through many different events together.

Koli may have moved far beyond the village of Mythen Rood, but his friend Spinner is still there. Chapters scattered throughout the main narrative detail Spinner’s life as she tries to find her place as part of the ruling family. The use of technology in the village remains a closely guarded privilege, only available to those deemed worthy, but Spinner has a natural inquisitiveness that isn’t easily satisfied. There are still many secrets in Mythen Rood and Spinner means to uncover them all.

The world building in The Trials of Koli continues enthral. We get to learn more of the wider world and how different communities have drawn their own mythology surrounding the world before the Unfinished War. Carey’s vision of future England is a fragmented wasteland with only small pockets of society left. Without direction or interaction, chances are humanity will decline. The future of the world has reached a critical point. This might sound terribly downbeat but characters like Koli and Spinner offer a small sliver of hope. They exhibit a sense of dogged optimism that is infectious.

It occurs to me that The Trials of Koli is ultimately about what it means to belong to something bigger than yourself, and understanding who you are. Koli finds a new family and friends. Spinner learns the truth about her community, and Cup stops punishing herself for who she is. Carey’s exploration of his characters is captivating. This journey is as emotional as it is physical. Tonally, I’m reminded of another classic series of genre novels – The Tripods by John Christopher. The Trials of Koli is as much about that difficult transition from childhood to being a grown up as it is about saving the world. Koli, Cup and Spinner are all stepping into new lives whether they want to or not. How they choose to deal with these fundamental changes is fascinating to witness.

The second book in any trilogy has to up the ante when it comes to plot. It needs to give characters room to grow and evolve. The Trials of Koli ticks every box as far as I am concerned. I was left wanting more. The final part of this trilogy cannot come soon enough

The Trials of Koli is published by Orbit and is available now. Book three in The Rampart trilogy, The Fall of Koli, is set to follow next year. I can’t wait to get my grubby little mitts on it.

My soundtrack recommendation to accompany this novel is The Village by James Newton Howard. The post-apocalyptic landscape of England has a stark beauty that I think this score perfectly conveys.

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