REVIEW: The Fall of Koli by M.R. Carey
Dear M.R. Carey:
This is the third and final book in a trilogy, following The Book of Koli and The Trials of Koli. Final books in suspenseful series often falter under the weight of expectations, so I went into this one with a bit of trepidation.
When we last saw Koli, he and his companions, Ursala, Cup and Monono (who is an AI living inside a piece of “tech” called a Sony Dreamsleeve) were in peril, again. They had ventured onto the ocean in a small boat to seek out The Sword of Albion, a mysterious signal that they believe may lead them to the keys to save humanity. Their boat began to sink just as they reach a huge ship, and once they are rescued, they find that the ship seems to be populated by a single strange trio: the relentlessly cheerful Lorraine, her stern husband Paul, and their sullen, hostile son Stanley.
I’m going to spoiler-mark this because even though it comes out early in the story it’s kind of spoilery:
The mystery of what is going on with Stanley absorbed a lot of my attention in the early-middle part of the book. He’s usually extremely nasty to Cup and Koli, racist and transphobic (Koli is mixed-race and Cup is transgender), but occasionally seems to be an entirely different, friendlier person. He is taken away daily by Lorraine for treatments that appear to leave him depleted and in pain. Meanwhile, Ursala has been instructed by Paul and Lorraine to work on upgrading her diagnostic (a fantastical piece of equipment that can diagnose and treat a number of ailments; it’s one of the few pieces of tech in this world that seems intended to help rather than destroy) for reasons that are mysterious. The group comes to understand that they are prisoners, and that their arrival has activated long-dormant, sinister plans.
Meanwhile, back in Mythen Rood, Spinner, who became the series’ second narrator in the last book, has returned triumphant from a battle with the hostile forces of Half-Ax. She has acquired a valuable piece of tech – a tank called Challenger. But the skirmish left several from Mythen Rood dead, and Catrin Vennastin, who is both Spinner’s mother-in-law and the Big Cheese of Mythen Rood, gravely injured. With the previous death of another Rampart in book one, and Spinner’s husband Jon’s loss of Rampart status when his tech is destroyed, the leadership of Mythen Rood is depleted and fractured, with only Catrin’s unpleasant and reactionary sister Fer and Fer and Catrin’s father, Perliu (who is physically and mentally impaired at this point) retaining Rampart status. A lot is falling on Spinner, who is only about 16 years old and pregnant with her first child.
The main concern in Mythen Rood is retaliation from Half-Ax, a community that is many times their size. Half-Ax’s leader, called the Peacemaker, believes all tech belongs to him, and even if he doesn’t simply raze Mythen Rood in retaliation, he will expect Mythen Rood to turn over all of its scant tech, leaving it more or less defenseless against the many things in the world that want to kill them.
Pacing has been an issue for me in this series, and continued to be in this book. It doesn’t affect my enjoyment that much (or at least hasn’t since the early part of book one, which I felt was sort of a slow start). Events that felt climatic occurred a little past the 50% mark in The Fall of Koli, which left me a bit off-balance. I could see that there were still issues, big ones, for the characters to work through – the threat to Mythen Rood from Half-Ax; the question of whether Koli, et al. can really save humanity. But there’s just been a general sense in the series of things not unfolding the way I expect them to. Which isn’t a bad thing!
At times the series has felt a little episodic, especially in Koli’s travels and the perils he encounters in them. Some parts have dragged a bit, as well. (Specifically the battle scenes, because I’ve rarely read a battle scene I wouldn’t rather skip and have summarized for me, and the descriptions of the action tend to confuse me.)
Back to that ambitious plan – Koli identifies himself, and is identified by others in the course of the series, as not particularly bright or brave. But he does come up with a plan, along with Ursala, to try to find new people in other villages and bring them together so they can interact and hopefully mate with each other, and with the help of Ursala’s diagnostic, increase the gene pool (currently the birth rate is very low, presumably because of isolation and inbreeding). He does not hesitate to act when his friends are in danger. By this book, he has come a long way from the impetuous youth who irritated me a bit in The Book of Koli.
I’ve been thinking about how tech operates, almost literally, as a deus ex machina in Koli’s world. Both in the form(s) of Monono, and other tech that the characters stumble upon at just the right moment, it ends up saving the day any number of times in the series. I’ve decided I’m okay with that because honestly, Koli’s world is pretty bleak and the characters need all the help they can get. The danger of an overreliance on technology is such a common theme in futuristic and dystopian fiction, and even here their destructive properties are clear. But it’s somehow hopeful to see tech put to good use by the end of this book; it gives one the sense that what Koli and his friends are trying to do may actually succeed.
Somehow I did not expect the book to end as it did, though I should have seen it coming in retrospect. It was slightly bittersweet but absolutely perfect. Because I really loved the ending so much, my grade for The Fall of Koli is an A-.