Despite often viewing reading as a solitary experience, sometimes friends are where it’s at. A flash book-group got me through the first Koli book, and a buddy read with Nataliya was my impetus and reason for the second. The first half of “The Trials of Koli” was a lackluster experience, and without my buddy, I might have let it languish. Fortunately, two aspects redeemed it: Spinner’s storyline and the events in the later half of Koli’s story.
I’ve said before in a first person narrative, you have to either like the character, or at least find them very interesting. Koli’s perspective was frustratingly, determinedly innocent, but not with joy or with informed hope, but rather the clueless innocence of a child wanting some magic thing to happen and make it all better. At the end of the second book, I now suspect that viewpoint was more because Carey needed it to be. For instance, despite knowing about ‘shunned men’ who eat people, his experience with his own village casting him out, and his experience with the religious sect (all in the first book), he continues to approach villages without a modicum of caution and to look upon their motives without suspicion. While Cup seeks to learn and grow, Koli thinks, ‘what’s the point? No one in my village knows this anyway.’ It makes for a character that is hard to both like and to maintain interest, as his reaction to the world is so one-note.
Thankfully, this book followed a dual plotline, one with Koli and his band on the journey to Londun, and one with Spinner in the village. She has a more mature outlook, and one that I think is in line with the world-building. She’s agreeable and doesn’t seek to escalate conflict; in fact, she works to diffuse it, which I think would be extremely necessary in a small, inter-connected group (spoiler for her life change) [for instance, once the grandfather Remnent –memory of the name–comes to her with the problem of the virus and she starts working with him, she does seek to assuage the worries of the other people in the household who come and get her, and work to keep them friendly (hide spoiler)]
Spinner’s chapters reinforce this feeling, because she sounds a bit more calculating and understanding about the economic and political structure of the village. When she marries, she tries to develop her relationship with the Ramparts. Koli is just clueless, and wants everyone to stay alive in this very harsh world where almost no one can.
It eventually became a more balanced and interesting book for me because of Spinner, and somewhat because of Cup, who indirectly showed more interesting thinking than Koli. Cup is a transgender pre-teen that joined with them at the end of the last group, and ends up going through some interesting changes. Granted, these are through Koli’s perspective, but I found this to be one of the more interesting interactions Koli has.
Notes on the writing: Carey is a decent writer who uses language well. However, this is a world that is many years post-fall of civilization, so while some concepts and place names remain, they are somewhat adulterated. The people also talk in a dialect that sounds vaguely uneducated with improper tenses and grammar. Koli’s internal voice is consistent with this as well, although Spinner’s was less so. I got used to it, but I’m not overly fussy about such things.
Ultimately, I remain a bit ambivalent about the series. While I wouldn’t say it’s poorly written, I’m not sure it’s actually interesting. Koli himself is too young and naive of a character to hold my interest, but as I’m starting to feel like that’s authorial intention, I dislike being manipulated even more. For those who like the details of a journey–something I enjoyed a great deal when I was younger–I’m still not sure it will satisfy, as a great deal of the day-to-day in traveling is glossed over through the work of the drudge or dismissed with the ever present cloud cover (how convenient!). Will I go on to the next? It probably depends on Nataliya and the Flash Group. 😀