By M. R. Carey
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"A gorgeous, borderline flawless trilogy." –Seanan McGuire
What will the future hold for those who are left?
Koli has come a long way since being exiled from his small village of Mythen Rood. In his search for the fabled tech of the Old Times, he knew he'd be battling shunned men, strange beasts and trees that move as fast as whips. But he has already encountered so much more than he bargained for.
Now that Koli and his companions have found the source of the signal they've been following – the mysterious "Sword of Albion"—there is hope that their perilous journey will finally be worth something.
They're searching for a way to help humanity fight back against nature. But what they'll find is an ancient war that never ended . . .
The Rampart Trilogy
The Book of Koli
The Trials of Koli
The Fall of Koli
For more from M. R. Carey, check out:
The Girl With All the Gifts
The Boy on the Bridge
Someone Like Me
By the same author, writing as Mike Carey:
The Devil You Know
Dead Men's Boots
Thicker Than Water
The Naming of the Beasts
I went on a journey once. That may be news to you, or it may be something you know already. I try not to repeat myself too much, but I misremember sometimes. It was a while back now, and a lot has happened since.
Well, I say it was a long time ago, but I got to admit it doesn’t really feel that way to me. It feels like I’m on that road still, and only resting a minute or two before I get going again. A dead girl that’s my most close and faithful friend has got a good way of explaining that. She says the things that work the deepest changes in us kind of live on inside us, so they always feel like they’re happening right now. I believe she’s right. Or at least that’s the way it is with me.
Out of all the things I ever done in my life, this journey I’m speaking of was – by a great long way – the most important. Also, it was the one that cost me the most. I’m not complaining about that cost though I knowed what I was doing all along. Nobody could say I did my choosing without no sense of what it meant.
I got started on my travels when I was made faceless and throwed out of my village in Calder Valley. I went south out of there, from the wildest north of Ingland all the way down to Many Fishes village, on the edge of the great lagoon where lost London used to stand. Then I sailed across the ocean to a place called the Sword of Albion, which I thought would be the end of my journeying. It was not the end, or anything like, as you’ll see if you stay with me through this next and last telling. The greatest part – the greatest and the most terrible – was yet to come.
When I say words like great and terrible, it might sound like I got some vain and vaunting purpose, but I don’t. To tell you truly, I have not got much to boast about. I never had all that much in the way of courage, and still less of wit or cunning – outside of woodsmithing, which was my mother’s trade and should of been mine. All I had was the foolishness that goes with being young and not yet much tested by the world. For all the danger I put myself in, I thought there was a rule set down somewhere that said I couldn’t die until I’d lived.
Well, there is no such rule – and though I didn’t die for aye and ever on that road, yet you could say there was parts of me that did. Leastways, I met with things that changed me from the boy I was before into something else, and so that boy did not last out the journey.
I should tell you that I was not alone on my travels. There was three women with me, as well as a beast of burden that was called the drudge.
The first woman was Ursala-from-Elsewhere. She come from a place called Duglas, and she was the cleverest wight I ever met. She knowed almost all that could be knowed about the world, including a great deal about the tiny seeds inside a woman and a man that make up into babies when they get brung together. She was a drunkard when she could get anything to drink, a healer that could cure every sickness anyone ever had a name for and a wayfarer that never stayed in one place long. Also she was one that hated to be touched, but that did not stop her from being a good friend to me.
The second woman was Cup, although maybe I should call her a girl since she was only fourteen years old and would not of gone Waiting yet if we was in my home village of Mythen Rood. She was a great fighter, and had once been with shunned men in Calder that et human meat, but now was sorry she done it and would not ever do it again. She had a religion that did not make no sense to me, and she clung to it even though her messianic, Senlas, turned out to be mad and burned himself alive. Also, she had a bow and could use it better than anyone I ever seen. And in case I forgot to say, she was crossed, being in a boy’s body instead of a girl’s.
The third woman was in a worse pass than that, having no body at all. She was called Monono Aware, and was the dead girl I talked about before. She wasn’t really dead though, and you might say she was not really a girl neither. It’s hard to say just exactly what she was, for there hadn’t ever been nothing like her before. Scientists of the world that was lost had collected all the thoughts that was in the mind of a flesh-and-bone-and-blood woman named Monono Aware and put them in a silver box. Then, after a long time, the thoughts had changed themselves into something else, but they still kept that same name, Monono Aware, because it was the onliest name they had for themselves. Monono was my best friend in the world, like I said. They was all three of them my friends, but Monono was someone I could not be parted from without being less than my own self, if that makes any sense at all.
I already talked about this stuff, probably more than was needful, but there was some things I passed over when they happened because they wasn’t bound up with the bigger story I was telling. I got it in mind to go back now and tell you one of them missed-out things, even though it’s out of its place, on account of how it bears on what’s to come.
We was no more than three days out of Calder, going south and east. Many Fishes village, Sword of Albion, Baron Furnace, all them things was still a long way ahead of us and we didn’t even dream of them.
On that third day, we come into some lands that belonged to the Peacemaker. We knowed this because we kept on seeing his mark, of a woodsman’s hatchet, on trees and posts and rocks. Sometimes the mark was drawed carefully, and stained red with some kind of dye. Other times it was a loose scrawl or scratch that was done in haste and could only just be made out.
Then we found ourselves in a strange place. It was a stretch of bare ground three hundred strides long and maybe two hundred or so across, with rocks and stones heaped up on all sides of it. The rocks had been cleared from the middle of the place, it seemed like, and piled up at the edges – a deal of work that must of been done so someone could plant there. But in the middle, where you might of expected to see some leeks or onions or potatoes growing, or at the very least some green grass for a pasture, there was only dark brown dirt crossed with white lines.
The white lines was strange because they had a shape to them. Some was straight while others was curved, some spaced apart and others tight together. They was made by ploughing furrows in the dirt and filling the furrows with white powder. When Cup kneeled down and tasted the powder, she screwed up her face.
“It’s salt,” she said. “Well, there’s salt in it anyway.”
“There’s chalk in it too,” Ursala said. “That’s what gives it such a vivid colour.”
Well, chalk is a thing you can find anywhere but salt is precious. We couldn’t see no reason to spoil the one by mixing it with the other. Then we found the ruins of a house right by there, and after that another, and then a third and fourth. They all had been burned down, long enough ago that the ash had blowed away and there was nothing left but the outlines of the walls and a few stones here and there to mark a threshold. So then we knowed the ground was sowed with salt by them that burned the houses, to stop the people that had lived in them from coming back there again.
It was a sorrowful thing to see, and it weighed on our spirits. We didn’t linger but was on our way as quick as we could, taking the path that led up out of there into the hills. About a half of an hour after that, Cup punched me on the arm and pointed.
We had come out onto an elbow of a mountain and could look straight down at the field we just left, maybe a quarter of a mile below. From this high, the white lines made up into a shape. It was the shape of a woodsmith’s hatchet, so I knowed then whose soldiers burned the houses and sowed the salt. They wanted to tell it, and not leave no room for doubt about who they was. If the salt was a vengeance, the chalk was the telling of it.
I hadn’t never met the Peacemaker nor been to Half-Ax, but I started to hate him then and had good reason later to hate him more. That’s not why I’m telling this, though. I’m only saying that sometimes you need to get some distance away from a thing before you can see it clear. That’s true of the bigger story I’ve been telling you all this while, and it’s most especially true of the place we come to next, after we sailed out of Many Fishes across the lagoon and out into the ocean, following the signal that Monono had heard all the way back in Calder. It was a place that was called the Sword of Albion, though it was not a sword so its name was a lie.
Ho, Koli Woodsmith, some of you might be thinking. After the tales you told of shunned men and messianics, sea-bears and choker storms, anyone would need to go a long way about to lie as hard as you done. You got no business calling out others for their falsehoods. I swear, though, I’ve been careful to tell everything I did and everything that happened to me just exactly the way I remember it. I’m not hiding the mistakes I made, though it’s hard oftentimes to make room for them all.
I only ever told you the one lie, and that was on account of not having the words to say the truth of it. When we get to the end of the story, I’ll do my best to tell you that part too, and maybe you’ll see why I couldn’t do it sooner.
But we’re not like to get to the end unless we first make a start.
We had sailed out across the ocean, like I said, following the signal that told us it was the Sword of Albion. Only instead of a Sword, we was come at last to a great wall standing in the middle of the water, made out of welded-together plates of dark grey metal. While we was still trying to figure what to do about this, a voice spoke up.
“In the name of the interim government,” it said, “stand where you are. You may proceed no further.”
I was going to say it was a man’s voice, and in a way it was, but at the same time you could tell it was not no man that was speaking. The gaps between the words and the way they was said did not match up. It was as if someone was picking them up out of a big box of words and throwing them down one after another without caring where they fell or which way up they was when they landed. It would of been funny if it wasn’t for where the voice was coming from. It was coming from out of the DreamSleeve, the little silver box where Monono lived. There shouldn’t of been no voices coming out of there except for hers.
And now it spoke up again, while we was all of us still trying to figure out which way was up. “You and your vessel are being scanned,” it said. “Remain where you are while this scan is in progress. Do not make any attempt to disengage. Do not make any attempt to board.”
“What…?” I stammered out at last. “Who…? Monono, what was that?”
“What was what, dopey boy?” Monono said, in her own voice.
“You were pre-empted,” Ursala said. “Someone used your speakers.”
“No, they didn’t. The DreamSleeve is completely…” She went quiet for the smallest part of a second. Then she sweared an oath in her own language. “Chikusho! There are twelve seconds missing from my log. That’s not possible!”
“It’s perfectly possible. You suffered a hostile takeover.” Ursala sounded angry but I think she was mostly scared. I didn’t blame her for that. I was scared too, right down to the heart of me. However poor and patched together that voice sounded, what it just done to Monono spoke of something big and strong past anything I could imagine, and it did not bode nothing good to us. I pressed my hand down hard on the DreamSleeve, in its sling against my shoulder, though I knowed I couldn’t keep Monono safe from whatever it was that had been done to her.
“I’m fine, Koli-bou,” she told me on the induction field. “Don’t worry. Nobody gets to sneak up on me twice.”
“What are we going to do?” Cup asked, looking to Ursala.
It was a good question. We did not have no choice as far as standing still was concerned. Our boat, The Signal, had been filling up with water for some time and was about as close to sinking as a word is to a whisper. Whether we waited where we was or tried to turn around, there wasn’t any place we was like to go except down.
“If you’re Sword of Albion,” Ursala called out, “we came in response to your message. And now we’re taking on water. We need your help or we’re going to drown!”
There wasn’t no answer to that. By and by Ursala spoke up again. “Please! We’re no threat to you. We’re only three travellers in need of assistance.”
There was just a lot more silence. Cup gun to scoop water out of the boat with her hands, and after a little while I joined her. We couldn’t throw the water out quicker than the waves throwed it back in, but maybe we could stay afloat a little while longer than if we stood there and did nothing.
“Listen,” Ursala said.
We all went quiet and listened.
From far above us, a sound drifted down that was like something that could roar if it choosed to but was growling in its throat instead. It got louder and louder. We looked up. The mist hid it at first, but then it slapped the mist aside and stood out clear.
It was a thing like a great big drone. That’s the only way I know to say it, for it stood in the air like a drone and it was made out of the same things, which was metal and glass and shining lights that moved. But where you might catch a drone in your hands, almost, if you was bold enough to dare it, this piece of tech was near as big as a house. The outside of it was black, mostly, which put me in mind of a crow gliding down to feed on something that was dead. It had a shape that was not far away from a stooping bird, with things that might of been wings except they was too short and folded too far into its body. What made it different from a bird, though, was the way it could just stand there in the air, as still as anything. If them things on its sides was wings, then the wings didn’t need to beat and didn’t look as if they could.
The thing come down and down until it was on a level with us. A gust of hot air come with it and blowed in our faces. It smelled like a stubble field burning and like stale fat on a cooking stove at the same time. It made my eyes sting and fill up with tears.
I had the baddest of bad feelings about drones. In Mythen Rood, where I lived for most of my life, they come down out of the sky and spit out hot red light that oftentimes left people dead behind them. They was said to be weapons left over from the Unfinished War, that was still looking for enemies to kill and would hit out at any woman or man they seen. It was true that Ursala used to have a tame drone of her own that went where she told it to and spied things out for her, but that hadn’t made me like drones any more than I did to start with.
So I didn’t think that thing coming down was any kind of good news, even though the water was up around our thighs now and the sides of the boat was only a finger’s span higher than the ocean all around us.
“Apologies for the delay,” a voice said. “I can see you’re in difficulties, but our primary concern is for our own security. I’m sure you understand.” It was not the same voice we heard before, but a very different one. This was a man too, but he sounded like he was unhappy or angry that we was there and uncertain what to do with us now we was come. “First things first. If these readings are correct, you’ve got a medical diagnostic unit there with you. Could you tell me what model it is, and what condition it’s in?”
“Are you joking?” Ursala yelled out. “The condition it’s in will be fifty fathoms down if you don’t get us off this boat!”
“That’s hardly my problem,” the voice said. “Or my fault. You came out here of your own free will. The quicker you answer, the sooner we’ll get through this. Tell me what model your unit is, and give me a rough summary of its functionality. We need to have a full picture before we decide what’s to be done here.”
“We’re going down!” Cup yelled.
“Then if I were you I wouldn’t waste any more time.”
Ursala sweared an oath. Her eyes was big and wide. She pointed to the back of the boat where the dagnostic was sitting on the thwart wrapped in an oilskin cloth. The water hadn’t reached it yet, but it was not far off. “It’s a mounted unit, from a Zed-Seven medical drudge. Now it’s exposed to the elements, as you can see. Its state is deteriorating every second!”
“But it’s still functional?” the voice said.
“Yes! For now!”
“And it’s yours?”
“So I assume you’re trained in its use?”
Ursala throwed up her hands. “Fuck and damn this nonsense! Get us to safety! We’ll talk then.”
There was a few moments when we couldn’t hear nothing except that growling again, as the big drone bobbed and wobbled in the air. “All right,” the voice said. “Climb into the raven. Quickly.”
A door opened up in the belly of the big drone and a kind of a ladder spilled out. I say it was a ladder, but it was made all out of silver metal and it rolled and swung like it was knotted rope. The loose end of it bumped against the side of our boat. It was clear that we was supposed to climb up inside the drone. Ursala didn’t move though, and it seemed like both me and Cup was waiting to see what she did before we made a move our own selves. “What about the diagnostic?” Ursala shouted.
“Leave that to me,” the voice said.
Ursala still stood her ground. “What does that mean?”
“Ursala, we’re like to drown here,” Cup muttered. “Maybe we should just go.”
But I knowed why Ursala was being so stubborn, and I felt pretty much the same way. The dagnostic could make medicines for any sickness. It was a marvel and a miracle. And besides that, it was the onliest hope we had got left to save humankind, that was close to dying off for aye and ever. When it was fixed right, the dagnostic could make babies drop into the world alive that otherwise would of been born dead or not born at all. If we let it be whelmed by the sea, there was not any point in us coming here in the first place or doing anything else after.
“I can raise the unit up on a winch,” the voice said. “But manhandling a weight that large risks swamping your boat. Please get into the raven. There’s no more time to argue.”
Well, now we was come to it. We looked each to other, and I guess we was all thinking the same thoughts, which was: who was on the other end of that voice, and of the first voice we heard, and what did they want out of us? We was like to jump from the grate onto the griddle if we was not careful.
But we was not well placed to argue it. Ursala give a nod at last, and we all crowded forward, making the wallowing boat pitch and rock under us. We climbed up the ladder one by one, into the big drone that the man had called a raven. Cup, who knowed how to swim and didn’t have no fear of deep water, went first. She struggled with the ladder to start with, but then found out where to put her hands and feet and went up fast. As soon as she got inside, she kneeled down and waited so she could help Ursala up when she come. She drawed her up with both of her hands gripped onto one of Ursala’s raised arms.
That just left me, and I have got to say I was not happy to put my feet on that ladder. It was not like a ladder in a lookout nor yet like the ladders between the houses in Many Fishes village, but was swinging free in the air in a way that was troubling to look at. Still, I seen there wasn’t no other way out of this, so finally I grabbed the sides of the ladder in my two hands to steady it and set my foot on the bottom rung.
Climbing a free ladder, as I learned right there and then, is a different thing from climbing a fixed one. Your own body’s weight tilts it, so it slips out from under you unless you hold it from both sides and put yourself in the right place to balance it. I did the one of them things, but not the other. With my first step, the ladder gun to rock. With my second step, it bucked and tossed like a horse saying no to a saddle.
And with my third step, it tipped me off.
I throwed out my hand to catch the side of the boat, but I missed it by a yard or more. I went into the water, and once I was in there I kept right on going. The chill of it was like a giant had punched me inside my heart. I couldn’t move any part of me. I just fell down into the ocean the same way you’d fall through the air if you jumped off a house’s roof, only not so fast.
I guess it was my own fault I couldn’t make no better fist of swimming than that. I had lived in a village right by the ocean for the best part of four months, and there wasn’t a boy or girl there that couldn’t swim like a fish just about as soon as they could walk. Lots of times, people had offered to teach me, but I thought it was easier just to stay out of the water, which had never been a problem for me up to that time.
Now here I was, in the water all the way and getting deeper, what with the weight of my clothes and my knife and the DreamSleeve and all the other stuff I had about me pulling me down. I seen the keel of our boat above me, getting further and further away. I thought, well, that’s that then, I’m going to drown. And I done my best to make good on that decision, for I let out all the breath that was in my lungs in a kind of a hiccup, just out of surprise and not knowing to hold it in. The sea poured into me, filling up the place where the air had been.
You would think swapping air for water would make me heavier, but my sinking down into the water slowed and stopped. I seemed to hang there, in a space that was all striped with light and dark.
Something passed by me, very close. I seen its eye first, like the window of a house with no lights on inside. Then its grey flank glided past, all set with spikes and spears longer than my arm. It took a very long time to go by. I hoped with all my heart that I was too small a morsel to be worth turning around for.
Then something grabbed a hold of me, high up on my left leg, and I come up out of the water even quicker than I went into it. I was flying through the air. Not like a bird, for birds is not much inclined to fly upside down. More like a flung stone, and maybe most of all like a fish that’s being hauled up on the end of a line.
I seen the ocean all churning and foaming under me, and a long stream of water going down from my drenched body to join it. I seen our little boat, wallowing and sinking. I seen that great wall of metal, right alongside me, so close I was like to dash my brains out against it.
And then, as I kept on going up and up, I seen something so strange I couldn’t make no sense of it. I was up above the wall, looking right over it. I would of expected to see a village on the other side, as big as Half-Ax or even lost London – and it’s true there was a place where people might live, though it was drawed out long instead of round like Mythen Rood and Ludden and Many Fishes. There was great towers rising up out of that long, wide place, and on the far side of it another wall. The two walls was not flat to each other like the walls of a house, but come together in a point. And where they touched, they cut a furrow through the ocean like a plough does in a field, throwing a great spume of white sea-froth out behind.
This was not a village, nor yet a fortress. It was a boat, so big you could of put the whole of Mythen Rood on the deck of it. And it was a boat that had been through terrible trials. Some of them towers I told you of had tumbled down and lay across the deck like people at Summer-dance that had drunk too much beer. Parts of the big open space was blackened with fire, with great pits here and there where the solid metal had been staved clean in or else burned and melted away by a great heat. I didn’t know how something that was floating in all this water could catch fire. But then, I didn’t know how something as big as a whole village could float on an ocean in the first place.
I would of yelled out in surprise when I seen all this, but I still had mostly water inside of me and could only make a kind of a bubbling sound, like a pan on a hot stove. Then someone put the lid on top of the pan and all was turned to dark.
“It’s nice to be able to show you these things,” Monono said. “They’ve been like ghosts inside me, all this time.”
We was in Ueno Park, in Tokyo, sitting next to the pond called Shinobazu. It was night, and there was herons on the water. I could see the tocsin bell though, and the steps of Rampart Hold, so at the same time I guess we was in Mythen Rood, where I used to live until I was made faceless and sent out of gates to fend for myself.
So I had got the two things I wanted most in all the world, it seemed like. I was with Monono, in a place where I could see her and touch her, and I was home again among my family and friends with all my crimes forgot. A sense of peace come over me, like my wanderings and hard labours was brung to good at last and there wasn’t nothing else I needed to do.
“Come on with me,” I said to Monono. “I’ll take you to the mill to meet my mother and my sisters. You’ll like them a lot.”
“We can’t do that, Koli,” Monono said. Only she wasn’t Monono now, but had turned into someone else in the way that sometimes happens in dreams. Now she was Catrin Vennastin, Rampart Fire, Mythen Rood’s protector and the leader of the Count and Seal. She was looking at me all solemn-stern. Her two hands was closed on something that I couldn’t see. “Jemiu and Athen and Mull was all of them hanged long since,” she said, “on account of what you done. The mill’s underwater, like lost London, and won’t ever be found again.”
I was filled with grief and dismay. In real life, Catrin had promised me no harm would fall on my mother and sisters. She said nobody would bide the blame of what I done but only my own self. Here in the dream though, I knowed it was true. They was all dead on account of me.
“Well then,” I said, choking on the words, “I’m going to whelm the whole of Mythen Rood and bring Rampart Hold down on your head. I’ll make you sorry you hurt them, Dam Catrin.”
- "Folksy, lyrical storytelling and heartbreakingly complex characters have been a trademark of this rich trilogy....An epic and hopeful finale to an altogether splendid tale."—Kirkus (starred review), on The Fall of Koli
- "Engrossing... Brimming with both action and humanity."—Publishers Weekly on The Fall of Koli
- "If you loved M.R. Carey's The Book of Koli, you will love The Trials of Koli just as much, if not more... Absorbing, stunning, and emotionally rich."—Locus on The Trials of Koli
- "[A] beautiful book. Gripping, engaging, and absolutely worth the time it takes to burrow yourself into its reality. I can't recommend it highly enough."—Seanan McGuire on The Book of Koli
- "A captivating start to what promises to be an epic post-apocalyptic fable. Narrator Koli's inquisitive mind and kind heart make him the perfect guide to Carey's immersive, impeccably rendered world."—Kirkus on The Book of Koli
- "M.R. Carey hefts astonishing storytelling power with plainspoken language, heartbreaking choices, and sincerity like an arrow to the heart."
—Lauren Beukes, author of The Shining Girls
- On Sale
- Mar 23, 2021
- Page Count
- 576 pages