The Book of Koli is M. R. Carey’s latest entry in the post-apocalyptic fictional realm. Set in a world many generations from ours, in which the pre-apocalyptic world was more technologically advanced than our current world, existing technology becomes the basis for power. Unfortunately for Mr. Carey, take away that tech, and the story becomes nothing more than a coming-of-age story that could be set in an era and any culture.
There is so much to Koli’s world, which we barely get to see, given that Koli tells his own story. The plants and animals that inhabit his world are mutant varieties, vicious and extremely dangerous to humans, but Koli mostly mentions them in passing, identifying them as dangerous without giving readers a chance to comprehend them. There is no real explanation as to why trees are suddenly carnivorous and move in sunlight. Readers must assume there was some sort of radiation fallout from a war, but we don’t know this for certain. In fact, we don’t know much at all. We know there are small villages with people, that these villages rarely intermingle with one another, and that the villages are shrinking. We know the natural world is now extremely dangerous. We know that some people use technological devices from the previous era, but the villages limit who can use this tech because they use such tech as a source of power over the rest of the villagers. The lack of information that would help us flesh out Koli’s world is frustrating and disappointing.
While The Book of Koli is Koli’s story from his earliest memories until a significant event sets him on his path, Koli is not the most interesting character. In fact, he is a bit of a dullard. He believes he is more intelligent than he is, and he has a tendency to mope rather than take action. Of course, these two attributes get him into a lot of trouble of the avoidable kind.
The most interesting character is one who remains something of an enigma. Ursala wanders around with a robot and knows so much more than everyone else with whom we encounter. I want to know her backstory. I want to know why she knows what computers are and how to use them. Mr. Carey provides a few snippets of information, but one cannot help but feel that there is much more depth to her character than what we already know.
For most of the novel, I felt like I was going through the motions, reading for reading’s sake. I still have no interest in finding out the rest of Koli’s story, partly because the lack of any answers or basic world-building frustrated me to the point where I no longer want to put forth any more effort or time into the story. Plus, I don’t like Koli. Koli is so naive that he is more of a caricature than a compelling character. I know Mr. Carey is capable of much more in his writing, which makes The Book of Koli such a disappointment.