Review: Requiem by Ken Scholes (The Psalms of Isaak #4)

Requiem (The Psalms of Isaak #4)
Ken Scholes

Tor Books
I received an ARC from the publisher in return for an honest review
Releases June 18, 2013
400 pages
Epic Fantasy / Magic / ROBOTS!

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Read my review of Lamentation, the first book of the series, here

Ken Scholes’s debut novel, Lamentation, was an event in fantasy. Heralded as a “mesmerizing debut novel” by Publishers Weekly, and a “vividly imagined SF-fantasy hybrid set in a distant, postapocalyptic future” by Booklist, the series gained many fans. It was followed by Canticle and Antiphon. Now comes the fourth book in The Psalms of Isaak, Requiem.

Who is the Crimson Empress, and what does her conquest of the Named Lands really mean? Who holds the keys to the Moon Wizard’s Tower?

The plots within plots are expanding as the characters seek their way out of the maze of intrigue. The world is expanding as they discover lands beyond their previous carefully controlled knowledge. Hidden truths reveal even deeper truths, and nothing is as it seemed to be.

I think books in series should come with a “Previously On…” section at the beginning of each installment. For series with many, many winding plot lines and a steady stream of important characters, I think each character should have a page with an explanation where they were left hanging at the end of the previous volume, important events that have occurred to them thus far and key characteristics that are important to remember. This way, when two or more years pass between the time you gorge on the first three books and when the fourth is finally released, you don’t hate yourself for forgetting the details of the previous volumes or spend part of the book feeling as though you’re stumbling around in the dark trying to catch up.

I love Ken Scholes’ The Psalms of Isaak series, so I’m not going to pretend to be an unbiased reviewer. With each page, he transports me to a world of magic and mechanical men, clockwork birds and exploits on the moon, dream worlds and war, so much war. This series is a twisty-turvy maze of good guys who may be bad, bad guys who may be good and all characters every shade of gray you can imagine.  Nothing is as it seems and everything seems to be a vaguely veiled illusion to something else not yet seen. Scholes is an expert at build mysteries on top of mysteries until you’re afraid the whole thing will crumble around his head and create a black hole of confusion, but it never does. Even playing catch up with important events coming back to me as key moments in this fourth volume played out, each new mystery left me excited with the potential of answers to all the mysteries before.

This is a world with history, so much history that goes for eons beyond the time covered by the actual books. The history gets confusing with all the people named Y’Zir and Whym and all the important historical players seeming to go by a nickname or two depending on who is talking about them, but it doesn’t matter. Even with mild confusion and the need of a timeline or companion history textbook, the Named Lands is a vividly created world full of adventure, destruction and characters often too clever for their own good.

In this volume, most of the main characters from previous books are separated, flung to far corners of the world (and the moon!) in an attempt to stop the onslaught of the blood worshipping Y’Zirites, each in their own sneaky way. Friends become enemies, enemies become unlikely allies or at least start thinking they’re allies, and the potential for betrayal and a painful death is behind every corner.

A few fun things are introduced in the newest book, including the Keeper’s Hatch, a weird sort of humanoid spider who builds things, sails ships and assists the chosen people in regaining their home. I kept expecting for this giant spidery thing to turn on them, but perhaps that was my own deep seeded distrust of real spiders and not anything involving the book.

There are times when the books felt repetitive, especially in reference to references to Whymer Mazes and other puzzles created for the Named Lands. Everything is compared to a Whymer Maze and much talk is made of the ancient wizards and scientists of old that led to the population of the Named Lands. While I mentioned desiring a history book to go along with the novel, the passing mentions of important moments in history sometimes got in the way of the plot at hand. Unlike in previous books, there isn’t much action in Requiem in the sense of characters actively fighting against one another, but rather small events that often took place in dream space pushing each character into the places they need to be for the final book in the series.

I wonder if I would have been more enthusiastic in reading Requiem if I had been fresh off reading the previous books in the series. This is a fascinating addition to The Psalms of Isaak series, but on its own, it does feel a bit like a bridge between the action of Antiphon and the final book, Hymn. Even still, this is a world one can easily lose themselves in. Scholes maintains his mastership of world building, creating empathetic characters in the most unlikely of places, piling plot upon plot without losing momentum and keeping readers on their toes. There’s no way to tell where this world is going to take me for its conclusion, but I can’t wait to find out.


I received an advanced copy of this book from Tor in return for an honest review. Thank you to the publisher for being awesome.