The Book of Koli: Bye Technology, Hello Carnivorous Trees!

The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey

Madeleine’s ScoreEnjoyed it—would read it again
(4/5 cool points)

“Everything that lives hates us, it sometimes seems. Or at least they come after us like they hate us. Things we want to eat fight back, hard as they can, and oftentimes win. Things that want to eat us is thousands strong, so many of them that we only got names for the ones that live closest to us.”

Imagine a world so dangerous that even the trees want to kill and consume you. So it is in The Book of Koli in post-apocalyptic England (or Ingland, as Koli spells it). The past was full of incredible technology, marvels of genetic engineering, and war, all three of which contributed to the downfall of humanity and the shaping of the world in which Koli’s little village of Mythen Rood scrapes out its existence. Lost technology and the forgotten world of the past are key aspects of this book, and caught up in both is young Koli.

The Book of Koli is written in a first-person confessional style, and it’s a coming-of-age story at its core. Koli is one of the most sincere narrators I’ve ever read. Naïve, certainly, but sincere. Even more than my interest in the world, finding out what happens to Koli kept me reading. It’s clear in the way he tells his story that he’s seen things, survived against all odds, and, perhaps most of all, he’s done things he regrets. For a barely literate teenager, he makes deep observations about humanity. He learns hard lessons in a world where you really can’t afford to make the mistakes that bring them. At one point, he remarks, “I learned since then, and paid a price to learn it, that them as lay claim to great wisdom most often got nothing in their store but bare scrapings.”

There are other great characters herein. The mysterious, well-spoken Ursala is a traveling healer exasperated by small-minded villages even as she tries desperately to save them from extinction. She serves as a foil to Koli, and it’s fun to watch their relationship unfold. Then there’s Monono, whose viewpoints and snarky quips clash with the rawness of the world as much as the lost tech clashes with the apocalyptic background. While I’d love to elaborate on her, in that elaboration would be spoilers, so I’ll refrain.

Author M.R. Carey’s writing flows beautifully, albeit at a pace that might be slower than American audiences are used to. The book’s grammar is not traditional, which could be difficult for some readers to get through. One thing that helped me was listening to the audiobook as opposed to reading the text. The narrator, Theo Solomon, was excellent, and I was able to breeze through the instances of “I knowed,” “we wasn’t,” and the like due to his skill. Theo also had the challenge of voicing Monono, which was hard to listen to initially, but somehow, Theo made it work in the end.

The glimpses of the past in this first book of The Rampart Trilogy are intriguing and left me wanting to know more, and the series promises to continue delivering answers. Books two and three are already out; if this sounds up your alley, you can binge right on through to see how Koli’s story ends. As Koli says, “It never stops amazing me how a story can deliver you out of your own self, even in the worst of times.” This story is capable of such magic.

You can also check out my review of Carey’s zombie book, The Girl with All the Gifts.

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