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Canticle: The Psalms of Isaak    by Ken Scholes order for
by Ken Scholes
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2009 (2009)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

A myriad of plots thicken in Canticle, which follows Lamentation as the second (of a planned five) in Ken Scholes' brilliant and Macchiavellian fantasy series, The Psalms of Isaak. It opens as a mad metal man walks out of the Wastes with a dire message.

Lamentation began with a bang as Windwir, site of the great library of the Androfrancine order, went up in smoke. Gypsy King Rudolfo of the Ninefold Forest Houses rode with his Wandering Army to Windwir's aid, to find that he was accused of its destruction. Lovely (and deadly) Jin Li Tam, one of the hundreds of highly trained children of Vlad Li Tam, heard her consort, Overseer Sethbert, admit to the crime. She, along with damaged mechoservitor Isaak, joined Rudolfo. Old Petronus the Fisherman, once the Androfrancine Pope, returned to Windwir to bury the dead, with the help of orphan Neb. The Marsh King brought an army to Rudolfo's aid and hailed Neb as the Dreaming Boy, prophesied to lead the Marshers' long pilgrimage home.

As Canticle opens, construction has been underway for half a year on a new library at the Seventh Forest Manor under Rudolfo's protection. He and Jin Li Tam are expecting a child, though their relationship has been damaged by Rudolfo's discovery that Vlad Li Tam manipulated his life by killing his brother and parents. On the night of the Firstborn Feast for Rudolfo's new son, seemingly invulnerable assassins (using blood magick) slaughter his highborn guests, though they carefully avoid injuring the host. Rudolfo is determined to uncover the nature of this new threat and wonders why he was spared. Winters, grieving for the surrogate Marsh King who was one of those killed, is horrified to discover a conspiracy close to home.

As Jin Li Tam adjusts to motherhood and struggles to keep her ailing infant son Jakob alive, others embark on far-flung, perilous quests. Neb and Isaak journey through the Churning Wastes guided by the mysterious Renard who knew Neb's father. Petronus puts his life on the line in order to end civil war. Puppetmaster Vlad Li Tam had taken all of his family (except for Jin Li Tam) aboard an iron armada and sailed south seeking answers to the Desolation of Windwir. He learns that he in turn has been manipulated all his long life and faces a terrible trial that breaks him in body and spirit, but leaves him focused on revenge. Rudolfo places his realm and newborn son in Jin Li Tam's wise stewardship and seeks the armada and a cure for Jakob.

These wheels within wheels within wheels stop turning for a moment for a confrontation in which Jin Li Tam incurs a heavy debt, and readers learn that 'The Age of the Crimson Empress is at hand.' As this episode ends, more than one player seeks 'a way to undermine those tangled and bloody roots that threaten to choke our light.' Along with a growing legion of fans, I can't wait for more in this highly recommended series.

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