Koli lives in a far-future post-apocalyptic England. He has never been beyond the walls of Mythen Rood, his tiny village, because outside are wild animals, vicious plants, and who knows what other dangers. The leaders of Mythen Rood are the Ramparts, a small group of people who have magic that allows them to work the salvaged technology of the ancient humans who used to be masters of the Earth (that’s us).
When kids in Mythen Rood turn 15 years old, the Ramparts test them to see if they have the magic to work the technology. If they do, the kids join the Ramparts. If not, they’re relegated to lower jobs. After Koli fails to pass the test, he discovers a secret the Ramparts have been hiding from the villagers. Then, after stealing some technology from the Ramparts, Koli is banished from Mythen Rood.
Koli is completely unprepared to be in the wilderness on his own — he has no idea what’s out there — but, fortunately he finds a couple of companions. Thus begins an adventure in which Koli travels an England that was somehow destroyed long ago, meets the strange, and often dangerous, denizens of his post-apocalyptic world, and learns a little about the past. He also begins to wonder what else and who else might be out there and if there’s a way to revive the glories of the past.
There are just a few slightly slow spots but, generally, The Book of Koli has pretty much everything I want in a novel. It feels like a fantasy novel, but it’s really science fiction. From the first paragraph, M.R. Carey’s narrative voice is mesmerizing — it’s simply wonderful storytelling. We get to know Koli so intimately that it’s easy to feel empathetic toward him. Carey’s superb characterization reminded me of Robin Hobb’s stories about FitzChivalry Farseer. The futuristic setting with lost ancient technologies reminded me of Gene Wolfe’s THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN (though Carey’s story is much simpler) and Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. Each of the stories I’ve just mentioned are some of my all-time favorites in speculative fiction so, naturally, The Book of Koli checked a lot of my boxes. In addition to these features, the story is occasionally hilarious, such as a completely unexpected rickroll!
Koli’s story is fascinating and I can’t wait to find out what happens next in The Trials of Koli, due out in September, and The Fall of Koli, which will be published in spring 2021. I’m reading Hachette Audio’s edition. Theo Solomon does a great job with the narration. I loved his performance and especially recommend this version to anyone who thinks they might struggle to read Koli’s bad grammar, run-on sentences, and stream of consciousness. The Book of Koli is 14.25 hours long in audio format.