The Trials of Koli is the second book in the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey, author of The Girl with All the Gifts, The Boy on the Bridge and The Book of Koli. Despite being the second book in a trilogy (or maybe because of it), Trials expands the story of the adventures of a somewhat naive boy in a post-apocalyptic Britain in multiple ways. The most significant change is that instead of everything being told in first-person by Koli we also get first-person accounts by Spinner Vennastin. Spinner is the girl Koli left behind in his village of Mythen Rood when he was banished after revealing at her wedding to his best friend Haijon Vennastin that he had stolen some old tech from the Ramparts and could control it. This fact alone challenged one of the central organizing principles of Koli’s village that the Vennastins had exploited to maintain power and control of Mythe Rood for generations (i.e., that only certain people can control old tech and thus chosen individuals should be granted power to make decisions for the village). This event almost led to Koli's execution but the Vennastins were merciful" and granted him exile and ostracization instead. Book tells the story of what happens to Koli after he leaves Mythen Rood, while Trials continues that story, it also depicts what happens at Mythen Rood after Koli left, from Spinner’s perspective.
One of the weaknesses of the trilogy as a whole is that Koli is a bit naive and often slower to realize the significance of events than the reader. (I am sure that this is narrative device an d stylistic choice by the author to engage the reader more firmly in the novel but it can be annoying/disconcerting at times.) In Book this is balanced by the expansion of Monono’s intelligence after she is able to get access to the remnants of the internet and the epxonenial increase in her abilities and agency. Monono’s worldliness compensates for Koli’s wide-eyed bewilderment in various situations in both Book and Trials. However, the inclusion of Spinner as another main character in Trials lets the reader access the story through someone who is also the smartest person in the room, which is quite refreshing and a clear strong point.
Although the reader hopes that the Vennastins will get their comeuppance for unfairly keeping secrets about how the old tech works and maintaining control of the Rampart title through deception and secrecy, I sort of understood when Spinner made the decision to not reveal the treachery when she discovered it. She basically has to make this difficult choice after being thrust into the role of being responsible for the continued the existence of the village when everyone’s lives are in danger from external forces; Spinner decides unity among the villagers is required in order to have a chance of victory.
It’s very interesting how the two main threads of the story follow different paths as they follow our two main characters. Koli meets many different people and gets exposed to different social situations as he, Ursula, Cup and Monono travel hundreds of miles to find London and the Sword of Albion, which is referenced in a mysterious signal/transmission they have been receiving more and more clearly as they get closer to London. Back in Mythen Rood we learn more about the individual characters of the inhabitants (especially Jon, who in the first book seemed like a bit of an asshole but in Trials he is shown to be a loving husband and father). This happens as Spinner also learns (and understands) more about how the old tech she has access to works and uses it to defend the village and her people. Spinner is also lucky in that they discover some more powerful tech that greatly helps her in the war against invaders from Half Ax.
The Trials of Koli has more action and suspense than The Book of Koli, since much of the important character development happened in the first book. The primary exception is Cup, who becomes a much more rounded and sympathetic character than the brainwashed cultist she was introduced as. Overall, I’d say the second book in the Rampart trilogy is even better than the first and ends on such a cliffhanger that it makes one anxious and eager to read the final book, The Fall of Koli.
Title: The Book of Koli.
Author: M.R. Carey.
Length: 418 pages.
Publisher: Orbit Books.
Date Published: April 14, 2020.
Date Read: February 28, 2022.
OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).