THE TRIALS OF KOLI (Rampart Trilogy #2), by M.R. Carey


I received this novel from the Orbit Books, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

When I saw in my inbox a very unexpected email from Orbit announcing the ARC’s availability for the second book in M.R. Carey’s Rampart trilogy, I did not hesitate in requesting it because The Book of Koli, the first volume, was one of my best 2020 discoveries so far, and I was more than eager to learn how the protagonist’s journey away from his home village progressed. In the second volume, the focus on this post-apocalyptic world widens a little as Koli, Ursala and Cup travel in the direction of London, but character evolution remains front and center, with some interesting shifts in the interpersonal dynamics that offer promising developments for the future.

To recap the story so far: a series of environmental catastrophes and the Unfinished War left the world in shambles, and what remains of humanity seems confined only in small enclaves with little or no contact with the rest of the world. In the 200-souls village where young Koli lives the few, highly prized items of technology still functioning are in the hands of the Ramparts, the de facto leaders of the community, whose power is passed on only to the members of the Vennastin family. Once Koli discovers that the ability to wield the old tech is not tied to the Vennastins alone, he’s exiled and left to fend for himself in a world that’s become dangerous in many ways, and only his encounter first with Ursala, a sort of traveling healer, and then Cup, the former member of a death cult, increases his chances of survival and leads him on a coming-of-age and discovery journey toward London, fabled place of tech and progress.

One of the surprises of this book was that the narrative viewpoint is split between Koli and Co. on one side, and his former home of Mythen Rood on the other, through the voice of Spinner, Koli’s old friend and one-time lover, as she chronicles the events following his exile: it’s an intriguing choice, when considering the first book’s single point of view, and also a clever one because it keeps the pace lively by alternating between the two story threads, while showing how Koli’s discoveries have ultimately opened the Pandora’s box of the Vennastins’ secret and hinting at great changes in Mythen Rood’s power balance. Spinner is revealed as a layered character: at first she seems only interested in attaching herself to the Vennastins for convenience, but then she surprises the readers – and herself – by acknowledging how those apparently selfish choices have changed her and the way she looks at the world and her role in it. In the course of the story Spinner undergoes great adjustments which parallel the unsettling transformations in her small community: Koli started to perceive the possibility of a different reality through his connection with the Dream Sleeve, the piece of tech he claimed for himself, and its A.I. Monono, while Spinner here becomes aware of the wider world through a series of events that force her to mature quickly and to understand how the limited vision imposed by village life could be ultimately precarious and deadly.

For their part, Koli, Ursala and Cup (and Monono, as well) have formed an uneasy relationship: the crusty healer does not trust Cup, whose former attachment to a murderous cult makes her understandably suspicious, nor does she trust Monono and the increased abilities gained after the A.I. downloaded additional software – Ursala’s repeated requests that Koli reset the Dream Sleeve to factory standards drive a wedge of uncertainty between them that mars their former teacher/student relationship.  The dangers of the road, however, will change this balance and force the four of them to acknowledge the respective strengths, and to depend on each other for survival: the shift from grudging tolerance to playful banter and then to a sense of family is one of the most delightful surprises of the story, as are the growing friendship between Koli and Cup, the latter’s conflict with her sexuality and Ursala’s flourishing “maternal” attitude toward her charges.

Still, dangers indeed abound in the wider world: there are some sections where the small company has to fight for their lives, not just because of the natural perils of the world – like wildly mutated animals and trees – but also because of other humans who have not lost the old, ingrained penchant for dominance through aggression. There are also moments when the catastrophe that obliterated the old world manifests itself in dramatic evidence, as is the case with Koli’s first view of what remains of Birmingham: a huge field of bones that has him reacting in fear and dismay as he contemplates both the amount of people once inhabiting the land and the magnitude of the event that caused their demise, so that he feels overwhelmed by “more feeling than I could rightly manage all at once”.

If The Trials of Koli suffers a little (but only a little) from the dreaded middle book syndrome, particularly in the section devoted to the characters’ stay in the coastal village of Many Fishes, it also sets the stage for what promises to be a momentous conclusion, where hopefully many of the questions concerning the wider world and what really happened to it will be answered: the cliffhanger ending of Book 2 left me with a burning curiosity to see where the story is headed, and I’m comforted by the short interval between the first two volumes but still eager to see for myself where Koli’s journey will move next and how the developments in Mythen Rood will intersect with the main narrative.  I’m certain that Book 3 will provide those answers with the intensity I’ve come to expect from this author.

My Rating:

27 thoughts on “THE TRIALS OF KOLI (Rampart Trilogy #2), by M.R. Carey

  1. I enjoyed the first book so I’m very glad to hear how much you enjoyed this one. I find it interesting how it splits time between the wandering group and Mythen Rood. I wouldn’t have expected that, but it sounds like it works well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I didn’t read this too closely, since I have yet to read it myself, but I’m happy to see you enjoyed it! And I love split narratives so now I’m even more excited😁

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m glad you enjoyed it! As I wasn’t completely blown away by the first book though, my chances of continuing the series are probably going to be low. If it suffers even a little from middle book syndrome, I don’t know if I will enjoy it more than the first – but I’ll keep it in mind if my plate isn’t too full. Thank you for your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. With a full plate it’s understandable that this one would be placed on the proverbial back burner, indeed. Still, I’m driven by the curiosity to see how the author will wrap up the story – and that cliffhanger has me literally salivating 😀 to know more!


  4. I haven’t yet read The Book of Koli, although it’s been on my tbr for some time now, and this post just reminded me to get to it asap! I know I have said it before but you really do write terrific reviews, Mads! Yes, terrific! I love how detailed and beautifully worded they are – and yet to the point, something I ALWAYS STRUGGLE TO DO! xD

    AWESOME POST, AS ALWYSSS!!! ❤ ❤ < 3<3 ❤ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ahh – no not a cliff hanger!! Hopefully they are as quick getting book three out as they were book one lol. Glad you enjoyed it Maddalena – I’m looking forward to this one myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great review, Maddalena:)). I LOVED the first book and like you, regard it as one of the reading highlights of the year. I’ve requested this one from NG and am crossing fingers AND toes that I’ll get hold of it… I’m delighted you enjoyed this one – I loved the narrative voice and found Monono really beguiling – thank you for sharing:))

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I had to skim through some of the more plot-related parts but I’m really glad to see such a positive review for the sequel. I’m a bit skeptical but very curious about the narrative decisions made here. I hope it works for the better when I get around to it myself. I did, after all, find that the voice of Koli was one of the biggest draws of the book. Hopefully, Spinner has something to offer too. 😀 Fantastic review, Maddalena! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The widening focus from one character to more is one of the best features of the book, and it goes hand in hand with the larger focus on the world outside of Koli’s small village or the death cult’s cave.
      Hopefully we’ll get more of that with the third book…
      Happy reading! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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