The Book of Koli by M. R. Carey [9/10]

The Book of Koli,” the first in a trilogy by M. R. Carey, struck me at the outset of reading as very much in the tradition of Russell Hoban’s “Riddley Walker” or one of Gene Wolfe’s classics, or even, strangely enough “Flowers for Algernon” (Daniel Keyes), a tradition in which an untutored, seemingly simple soul amidst strange technologies or powers, is pushed forward into history. Youngster Koli, coming of age in the shut-off village of Mythen Rood, in a post-apocalyptic world barely recognisable as ours, is drawn to rebelling against the harsh village life kept viable by a few pieces of leftover tech. The author gently builds the picture of this rough life and a deadly, preying Earth, and then delicately ratchets up the narrative tension with superbly placed shocks and mini climaxes. Koli is an especially immersive hero, so earnest and questing and, it becomes clearer, intelligent, and by the second half of the book, I firmly lived through Koli’s eyes. His increasingly fraught adventures held me riveted. M. R. Carey is a superb plotter and the calibrated, controlled surge of twists and turns round off “The Book of Koli” at a perfect juncture for number two in the series, due in September. One of my top three novels of 2020 so far and hinting at a classic.

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