The Trials of Koli is the second novel in M R. Carey’s breathtakingly original Rampart trilogy, set in a strange and deadly world of our own making.
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.
The Trials of Koli is an almost-perfect follow-up to The Book of Koli. Everything that author M.R. Carey does in this book works, from the continuation of Koli’s story to the differing perspectives, all the way to the world expansion. Being such a huge fan of the first book in the series, I am really happy with the way the second in the series was written. Advance warning for minor spoilers related to book 1.
I want to address Koli, first, as he is the obvious highlight of the series. I love his character in book 1, so much so that in my review I stated “we are all Koli, in one form or another”. That fact has never been truer than in the second book, as Koli continue to be a microcosm of the rest of us. As his journey continues and Koli experiences new events, places, and peoples he both in awe of these things but at the same time takes them at face value. He does not overthink anything, merely just rolls with whatever comes his way. That does not mean he does not control his own fate, as it is his decisions that have them on this journey in the first place. But there is a certain innocence to him that permeates his words and actions, and that is a really appealing characteristic. I would say Koli does not really change much from book 1 to book 2 (he did most of his growth in Book), even as his world expands.
I have made no bones about the fact that Monono is my favorite character, though. In Book her character evolves (literally) right before our eyes, going from a standard AI to something more sentient. As with Koli, Monono does not change much in this book because most of her changes took place in the first book. Her relationship with Koli continues to be a highlight for me, offering him advice and information, and even affection. Hers is no doubt a love story with Koli (that becomes clear with certain scenes in the book), and to experience how much they care for each other is quite moving. Monono’s relationship with the other characters does shift in this book. I do not want to give too much away, but let’s just say that the more difficulties the crew of Koli, Monono, Cup, Ursala, and the Drudge encounter, the more they are forced to work together and put old grudges aside. It is not always easy, and it is definitely not linear, but they know they cannot survive, otherwise. It is a nice little trope that I enjoyed.
Speaking of difficulties, as with most series, Carey took the opportunity to use the second book to open up the story and give the readers (and the characters) an expanded view of world the author has built. I love the way this is accomplished in Trials, as I think this is one of the unique aspects of the book. As expected, Koli and friends continue on their journey to London. In doing so, the reader experiences new things right along with them. The landscapes, cities, and peoples they encounter are a welcome addition to the world view we already have while being somewhat par for the course. That is not to say it is not exciting, because it is. Koli’s story continues to be enthralling. But, what sets Trials apart for me is the other way Carey expands the narrative, and that is accomplished by introducing another perspective: Spinner. If you read Book, you will recall that she is the girl Koli was in love with and was hoping to marry, then had to sit by and watch her marry a Rampart, instead. This event was the catalyst for Koli’s actions that led to his exile. We get to hear from Spinner in Trials, as a good portion of the story is told from her perspective. Not only do we get an explanation of the events Koli describes in Book, but Spinner’s story continues, as well, and it is quite a treat. Again, I am not going to give much away, here, but I will say that while Koli is out exploring the world, the people of Mythen Rood are not just sitting on their hands watching the choker seeds grow; they have their own issues to deal with, and Spinner is right at the center of it all.
Herein lies the genius of this setup: Carey is simultaneously zooming out and expounding on the story by sending Koli out into the world to explore, and at the same time using Spinner’s narrative as a way to zoom in on one plot arc and provide more detail in that respect. There is a saying in baseball about pitching the ball in and out, up and down, and using location to change a batter’s eye-level so they do not get comfortable with one area of the plate. Carey employs the same philosophy here: by constantly changing not just the form but also the nature of the narrative (Rasengan, anyone?) the reader is never able to get too comfortable in one mindset; thus, creating that natural tension we all crave in a story.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the one aspect of this book that I was not as happy with, and that was the ending. Book ended in a perfect place, with Spinner getting married and Koli off to London the reader is provided with both a natural stopping point and something to look forward to. To be clear, I am DEFINITELY looking forward to book 3 in the series, The Fall of Koli, but the place where Trials leaves off feels does not feel as natural. To me, it felt almost like the author just stopped mid scene, called “Cut!”, and decided to start the third book at that stopping point. Despite that, Carey does leave the reader with much to anticipate.
Suffice to say, I loved this book. The Trials of Koli is setup in an ingenious way, continuing with the literary aspects that made The Book of Koli such a wonderful read while introducing new features of the story that ensure the reader is engrossed all the way through. This is a great follow-up to the first book, and I am waiting on the edge of my seat for series finale, The Fall of Koli, in early 2021. The Trials of Koli gets my highest recommendation.