Saturday, May 02, 2020

“The Book of Koli” by M. R. Carey – Venturing the Reclaimed Planet

Mike Carey has, like many other people, considered the innumerable ways in which our world could be brought to an end, and in his novel The Book of Koli he thrusts us into the middle of an apocalypse at the hands of Mother Nature.

The story follows the titular Koli, a young boy living in the village of Mythen Rood, and as far as its inhabitants know, they are likely one of the last few bastions of humanity.

The rules and walls of the village have kept them safe until now, but the burden finds its way onto Koli's shoulders, and he must venture into the deadly wilds to save his people.

Mike Carey Depicts Mother Nature's Apocalypse

The theme of apocalypse has been gaining traction in the past decades, and is perhaps even more current in today's strange times, reminding us we are far from invulnerable no matter how rich, strong, healthy, or technologically-adept we might be; the forces governing nature are still above it all.

Mike Carey has decided to take this line of reasoning to a certain extreme, landing us right in the middle of an Earth ravaged and reclaimed by Mother Nature in his latest novel, The Book of Koli, the first entry in The Rampart Trilogy.

The book opens with a presentation of the state of the world, an apocalypse where trees and plants of all kinds have evolved to become particularly deadly to all humans. Most of the Earth's population lays decimated, and the few survivors have gathered in isolated villages far and few in-between.

Sunny days are harbingers of danger as they cause the plants to become quite literally physically active, and thus the people of Mythen Rood live at the mercy of cloudy weather.

The villages are led by people referred to as “Ramparts”, and they have been entrusted their position for their seemingly magical ability to wake up technology and make it work for them through methods nobody else can understand.

We are presented with the young boy Koli, with aspirations of becoming a Rampart himself one day. However, after uncovering a massive secret of his village, he is forced to venture outside the walls and the learn the truth about the world by himself... if of course, he can manage to survive it all.

The Primitively Advanced Society in The Book of Koli

The structure in this book has it essentially split into two halves, and so I think we should simply tackle them in order, with the first one dealing with life inside the village. It's very much a slice-of-life approach to the exposition, showing us bits and pieces of people's daily lives and customs, slowly but surely building the fantastically-unique village of Mythen Rood.

While some authors get carried away in this approach and stuff their pages with meaningless details, Carey exercises some good control and caution in his exposition, carefully curating whichever elements are actually worth presenting. In other words, learning about the world never gets boring nor tedious.

The characters are quite well-written and believable across the board, from their actions to their reasoning and motivations. Carey does a fantastic job at giving us the kind of conflict where we can understand the supposed antagonist's perspective, making us examine things from a more reasonable and realistic angle. After all, the bad guys never actually think they are the bad guys, and I'm more than happy not having any moustache-twirling villains to contend with.

Our eponymous protagonist is, in my opinion, one of the better-written first-person perspectives I've had the pleasure of experiencing in recent memory.

While it does start off a bit rough, the writing does improve from start to finish, and I believe this was an intentional decision by Carey to reflect the mind and thoughts of a young boy. There are run-on sentences with incorrect grammar, and his thoughts run like a stream of consciousness.

Personally, I found this made his character all the more realistic and relatable, because let's face it, this is more or less how we think, rather than in organized lines of internal monologue.

Out Into the Wilds

I'm not going to spoil exactly what the secret discovered by Koli is, but it suffices to say it forces him to venture far out into the world beyond the walls, something the rules of the village forbid quite strictly.

This is what the second half of the book is about, Koli's coming-of-age adventure in an absolutely unique and mesmerizing post-apocalyptic landscape I won't soon forget.

This is where the pace and the action really start to pick up, leaving us with little room to breathe or compose our thoughts as Koli is quite literally never safe, forced to constantly remain on the move and extremely vigilant, lest the environment or one of the so-called “shunned men” claim yet another victim.

The transition into this new rhythm is actually done very smoothly, to the point where it's nearly imperceptible which makes it far less obvious the book is split into two distinct parts, unless you stop and think about it.

As far as the apocalyptic setting goes, I wasn't exaggerating when I said I won't soon forget it. Carey's descriptive abilities and imagination are truly something to behold, taking us on an excursion through what is essentially a completely different planet, populated by killer trees who eat people and all sorts of hostile vegetation with deadly seeds.

It's quite an interesting depiction of a very extreme scenario in which the Earth evolves its organic components as aggressively as possible to get rid of humans, and I think if the author intended for there to be a message about our relation to our planet in there, it's clear enough where I don't have to spell it out.

The Final Verdict

The Book of Koli by Mike Carey is an intriguing exploration of human life in a world reclaimed by Mother Nature, told through a coming-of-age story from the eyes of one of the more realistic and compelling protagonists in recent memory.

From the world-building, to the characters and the action itself, the stays captivating from beginning to end, making for about as good of a start to his trilogy as Carey could ask for.

If you enjoy apocalyptic fiction with a strong emphasis on the human element, then I highly recommend this book for you.

Mike Carey (Author)

Mike Carey

Personal site

Mike Carey is a British writer who dabbled in comics, films, novels and books. He worked on well-known projects such as X-Men, Hellblazer and Lucifer , and recently he released his first best-selling novel that will soon be made into a major movie, The Girl With All the Gifts.

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