THE FALL OF KOLI (The Rampart Trilogy, Book 3)
M. R. Carey
Orbit Books (orbitbooks.net)
And so Koli Faceless – who we’ve known by many names over the course of his tale: Woodsmith, Rampart, Witless – and his friends come to the source of the broadcast claiming to be the Sword of Albion. From a giant warship with a very singular purpose, Koli and his small gang find themselves returned to Ingland with a new purpose, a new understanding of why the world is in the state it’s in, and a destiny to return to Koli’s roots in Mythen Rood, where M. R. Carey’s incredible trilogy meets its satisfying – and extremely bittersweet – ending.
When I last saw Mytholmroyd, it was a seven-inch stratum of cold ash – the last of Drake’s strongholds that offered us any fight at all.
It’s a little under a year since Mike Carey introduced us to Koli and his new dangerous world. Since then we have travelled with Koli and his friends – the “crossed” Cup (a girl living in a boy’s body), Ursala-from-Elsewhere who brings along her horse-like drudge and the medical diagnostic unit that it carries, and Monono, the virtual girl trapped in the music player that originally set Koli on his path, and saw him expelled from Mythen Rood – as they set off in search of lost London, following an ancient broadcast signal. The ominously-named final book in the Rampart Trilogy, The Fall of Koli, picks up where the second book (The Trials of Koli) left off, and finds our intrepid group on board a giant ship, peopled by only three people, who seem to have their own agenda. This gives Carey the chance to give us some insight into how Koli’s world came into being, who the mysterious godlike Dandrake was, as well as the demonic stannabanna. Koli’s world is the result of almost 400 years of nature fighting back following a war that all but wiped out humanity.
It’s difficult to take Fall as a separate entity, without looking at it in the context of the wider trilogy, but it’s an edge-of-the-seat rollercoaster from the first page to the climactic battle scenes that draw the book – and this wonderful trilogy – to a close. Without ever giving the reader a chance to breathe, never mind try to second-guess what might come next, or where Koli might end up, Carey takes us from the decks of Sword of Albion, to the northeast English coast and on an almost-inevitable road back to the tiny walled village where it all started. And he does it all without ever breaking out of character, maintaining his made-up dialect for the duration of the three books, never leaving the reader behind, or causing us to wonder what, exactly, he’s talking about. It’s an achievement that deserves celebration, all the more so for the massively-condensed timeline in which the books were written and published, despite the real world – quite literally – falling down around the author’s (and everyone else’s) ears as he went.
Fans of Koli’s tale are unlikely to be disappointed with this final volume. Alternating between Koli’s point of view, and that of Spinner Tanhide, the girl he once loved back in Mythen Rood, the tale is true to its beginnings and ties up all the strands of the story in a way that will leave the reader satisfied, but with a pronounced lump in the throat. Many have attempted this experiment in the past – to produce a novel on-the-fly, publishing as they go and hoping they end up with something coherent. Stephen King, in writing The Green Mile – originally published in six parts between March and August 1996 – claimed to be following in the footsteps of no less than Dickens. The advent of the internet, and direct access to authors by their fanbase, has seen plenty of similar experiments over the years, with stories usually delivered digitally, and often re-published in more or less heavily-edited complete editions. Carey’s Rampart Trilogy is, perhaps, only the latest – and most ambitious – iteration, coming in the form of full novels at a time, rather than chapters. In all senses, it’s a triumph, a monolith of post-apocalyptic fiction that attempts to answer the question of what it means to be human, while holding up a mirror to our current world and asking the question: is this really where we want to go?
Between his work in comics (Lucifer and The Unwritten, to name but two) and his novels, Mike/Michael/M. R. Carey is a writing force to be reckoned with. The Rampart Trilogy – The Book, The Trials and The Fall of Koli – is a masterpiece that should come as no surprise to anyone that has had occasion to read any of his previous work. It’s difficult to say if he will be defined by any of these works, or if his best work is still to come, but there can be no argument that Koli will be remembered alongside Melanie as one of his finest creations. If you’ve already travelled partway along the road with Koli Faceless, I’m here to tell you that the final book in the trilogy is well worth the wait, and will answer many of the questions you may have asked along the way. If you’ve yet to join Koli on his travels, waste no time in getting your hands on a copy of The Book of Koli. You can thank me later. If you’re yet to experience the work of Carey in whichever of his many guises, you have a lot of catching up to do. No need to thank me; you’ll be too busy for quite some time.