Scholes’ Lamentation and Scalzi’s Zoe’s Tale.

A large and public thank you to Patrick Nielsen Hayden over at Tor. When you live in another country and don’t actually review books (I assign them for review but don’t review them myself), it’s hard to justify asking someone to send you free review copies. Nonetheless, about a month or so ago I asked Patrick if I could see copies of Lamentation by Ken Scholes and Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi. The fact that I’m thanking Patrick will give you an idea of how much I enjoyed both books.

Scholes’ novel is the opening volume in a new fantasy quintet to be published over the next three years or so, starting in January of 2009. From what I can tell, each of the books in the series are interrelated but aren’t direct sequels. Lamentation is literally a lament; the lament for the city of Windwir, a seat of ancient learning that is suddenly and terribly destroyed. Characters emerge – a boy leaving the city who witnessed the carnage, an old man who is closely linked to the city, a ruler of a nearby kingdom looking to rise to the challenge of the situation, and a mysterious figure and his daughter who seem to have been involved in events for a very long time indeed. The tone of the book is precise and just about exactly right: I was engaged from the opening page, stayed up late looking to finish it, and then begged Scholes to let me see the next book as soon as possible. If I had to give you short hand for what the book is like I’d describe it as intelligent epic fantasy done right and written with all of the flab removed. It’s nothing like George Martin’s first Song of Ice and Fire novel, except that like that book, it has the chance of standing as an important book in the evolution of the epic fantasy form, is a delight, and is a book that readers are very likely to take to heart. It’s one of the best first fantasies I’ve read in some time.

And then, after a break, I picked up John Scalzi’s latest, Zoe’s Tale. I honestly think I don’t need to summarise this one too much because Scalzi is fairly widely read. In essence though, the book takes the events of ‘Old Man’s War’ novel The Last Colony and recasts them through the eyes of Zoe Boutin-Perrty, the adopted daughter of Roaknoke colony leader John Perry. I think the charm of Scalzi’s work isn’t the ideas in his stories; it’s that his stories really deliver emotionally and that he has a tone of voice that is immediately warm, attractive and welcoming. You want to read his book, hear his story, and he seems to want to tell it to you. Writing a character like a teenage girl is always challenging for a middle-aged (or near middle-aged) man. I can’t tell you if Scalzi comes anywhere close to pulling it off, but it worked for me. I found her plausible and engaging and never had one of those moments where a character just seems wrong. I’ve not loved all of Scalzi’s novels equally (which is true for any writer’s body of work – we have favorites), but I liked this one the best. I wouldn’t start here – it’s worth getting the background from the other novels – but I’d try to get here as quickly as possible. I finished it last night round midnight and I confess I shed a tear. Well worth it.

Hmm. Makes me wonder if I should email Patrick again. These two were definite winners. I’ll definitely be buying final copies of these to add to the permanent collection.  Thanks too to Jay Lake, who recommended Ken’s book.  Of course, I’m now hooked for like three years, so it’s a limited thanks :)