Lamentation is a novel that promises much with its opening scene of the Desolation of Windwir, the wealthiest and most powerful city in the world. In a bold opening move Scholes poetically lays waste to not only the city but also its inhabitants, primarily consisting of Brothers of the Androfrancine Order, a religious sect based loosely on Catholicism who worship the light of human knowledge and accomplishment.
What follows, however, had me lamenting for a lost opportunity as we are introduced to the four main point of view characters who are anything but bold in their characterisation. Petronus, the monk with a shadowy past, Rudolfo a swashbuckling Gypsy King, Jin Li Tam, the beautiful female protagonist schooled in the arts of seduction and knives and a young boy, Neb, who was the only human witness to the Fall of Windwir.
The story centres around these four as they come to terms with the atrocity and try to bring to justice the perpetrator, Lord Sethbert, and unveil the reasons for his heinous crime. It is the introduction of other participants, however, which brings the story to life, as we are seemingly moved around the board as if pieces in the Great Game and whilst the political machinations are relatively straight forward, there are enough complications and twists to keep the reader guessing and entertained.
The novel definitely benefits from the steampunk element that the robots or mechoservitors bring to it. Isaak, whom the series, The Psalms of Isaak, is named after, is a robot with feelings and his addition to the story adds another element. At the same time, he also raises questions as to why technology has not advanced greatly in the 2,000 years that have occurred since the ending of the world, most especially given that it appears the world had consisted of magicks and mechanical for some considerable period.
With few characters and a relatively small world, the story moves along at a rapid pace, helped in no small part by the short POV sequences which usually comprise no more than 2-3 pages each. Having no need to leaf back through the book to keep track of who’s who and where events have taken place is a welcome change from the diet of recent novels which usually require compendiums or encyclopaedias to keep things straight. Less well done, though, is the world’s magick system which is underdeveloped and lacking in interest unless it was purposely downplayed in order for the steampunk element to have more more prominence.
Whilst Scholes does a good job of building knowledge of the world and its history without excessive information downloads, this is offset by what at times feels like a lack of detail to events in the here and now. Journeys of hundreds of leagues take place in the turn of a page and anyone expecting pages devoted to battle scenes will be disappointed.
All up, Lamentation is a good, quick read, comprising somewhere near 90,000 words. Whilst it is the first of five books in the series, it is sufficiently self contained that the reader can choose whether to continue on or not having read this first offering. For me, on balance, there are enough good points to continue with the story if only to tease out some more of the world’s background.