Tuesday, April 07, 2009

[Lisa’s Take] (Song of Isaak Book 1) Lamentation – Ken Scholes

I’ve felt a little “meh” about the last few books I read, so I was looking for something really stellar to get me out of my funk. Based solely on the recommendation of Jeff over at Fantasy Book Reviews I decided to pick up Lamentation. No questions, no research – I didn’t even read the jacket flap, just picked it up and added it to the stack.

Granted that didn’t stop JD from reading the jacket flap, and then he almost talked me out of buying the book. I know better than to put any stock in jacket-flap descriptions, but with text like the following I was almost scared off by the level of triteness packed into a few sentences:
An ancient weapon has completely destroyed the city of Windwir. From many miles away, Rudolfo, Lord of the Nine Forest Houses, sees the horrifying column of smoke rising. He knows that war is coming to the Named Lands. Nearer to the Devastation, a young apprentice is the only survivor of the city – he sat waiting for his father outside the walls, and was transformed as he watched everyone he knew die in an instant. Soon all the Kingdoms of the Named Lands will be at each others' throats, as alliances are challenged and hidden plots are uncovered.

I mean… wow. Do you get more hackneyed than that? Named Lands. Kingdoms at war. Ancient weapon. Orphaned Apprentice. Hidden plots. Check! We’ve hit all of the standard fantasy tropes with nothing that sounds even slightly original. It didn’t help that when I took the dust-cover off the book was kind of a mauve-ish-pink color, so coupled with the title it kind of looked like I was reading a romance novel. Still, in spite of JD’s skepticism I held my ground and started Lamentation as soon as I got home.

I’m very pleased that I did. I won’t say that Lamentation blew my socks off – it didn’t bowl me over like Last Dragon or delightfully surprise me like The Magicians and Mrs. Quent – but it did prove to be far less trite than the description suggested, and definitely worth the read. The world is an original combination of fantasy mishmashed with sci-fi and a touch of steampunk, and the characters a fantastic balance of vibrant and subtle. I found myself instantly attached to all of the major POV characters, though I’ll admit that Scholes did touch on my pet peeve of establishing X-number of POVs then throwing in a random +1 from time to time. I certainly don’t mind prologues or epilogues that diverge from POVs, but random chapters thrown in irk me, as it really breaks off the close relationship and flow that sucks you into the main POVs. Very minor gripe, and I can see why he felt the need to switch it up to cover all the major action.

In addition to the great characterization, I loved how evocative Scholes’ prose was. While he didn't use any particularly exciting words or flowing sentence structure that characterizes some of my favorite books, he still managed to draw me in with his descriptions. Scholes created a very rich world of sights and smells and tastes - so rich that I’ve been on a stint of drinking sweet chilled white wines (both while reading Lamentation and well afterwards) because of his meal descriptions. Oh, and did you know that girls’ breath always smells like apples? Sorry – random silly thing that caught my attention and I latched onto it. Twice in the book Scholes described women’s breath as apple-scented, and it struck me as chuckle-worthy.

Perhaps the thing I appreciated most about Lamentation was the fact that Scholes didn’t insult his readers’ intelligence. When it said “Hidden Plots” it really meant it, and Scholes doesn’t feel the need to over-explain or treat you like a 4-year-old. He tells the story with all its intricacies, and you’d damn well better be paying attention if you want to put it all together. I appreciated the chance to engage my brain.

I ended lamentation with a renewed purpose when it comes to completely disregarding jacket descriptions, and a new appreciation for blindly following the recommendations of other geeky fantasy bloggers. Though there were a few first-time-author hiccoughs, Lamentation was still more evocative and intriguing than most of the other fantasy novels I’ve read this year. I’m definitely looking forward to finishing the rest of the series.


Jeff C said...

Egads..I was under even more pressure than I thought ;) Seriously though, glad you liked it and didn't feel it was a waste of money. Now for my next recommendation.... :)

Alexander Field said...

The authors don't write the marketing copy right? So, I always look past the jacket copy because it written by marketing people...but I think I may have to pick up Lamentation now based on your review! Thanks...: )

LisaBit said...

Alexander - yeah, the author doesn't generally had a hand in those descriptions, so I know better than to trust them... and yet it's so temping sometimes ;)

Hope you enjoy it!