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Antiphon: The Psalms of Isaak #3    by Ken Scholes order for
by Ken Scholes
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Antiphon follows Lamentation and Canticle as the third (of a planned five) in Ken Scholes' superlative wheels within wheels within wheels series, The Psalms of Isaak. It's one of the few series that successfully spans fantasy and science fiction.

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 was falsely accused of its destruction. Jin Li Tam (one of the hundreds of highly trained children of Macchiavellian Vlad Li Tam) and damaged mechoservitor Isaak joined Rudolfo. Old Petronus the Fisherman, once the Androfrancine Pope, returned to bury the Windwir dead, helped by orphan Neb. The Marsh King (who turned out to be a young woman, Winters) hailed Neb as the Dreaming Boy, prophesied to lead the Marshers' long pilgrimage home.

In Canticle, on the night of Jin Li Tam and Rudolfo's son Jakob's Firstborn Feast, blood-magicked assassins slaughtered their highborn guests, isolating the Ninefold Forest from surrounding realms. Winters was dethroned as Marsh King, her sister Ria declaring herself queen of the Machtvolk, amongst whom a new Y'Zirite resurgence flourished - its worshippers venerate Jakob as their Child of Promise and await the coming of the Crimson Empress. Neb and Isaak ventured the Churning Wastes, seeking metal men. Vlad Li Tam was forced to watch most of his large family slaughtered in an Y'Zirite Blood Temple.

In Antiphon, readers continue to follow key story threads, beginning with an act of piracy committed by mechoservitors pursuing their own goal - they eventually make their way to the Ninefold Forest and to Isaak. In the Wastes, Neb saves the life of a scarred woman, who warns him of danger from her sisters. They hunt him relentlessly. Neb learns who and what he is. Petronus, contacted by the Office for the Preservation of Light, searches the Wastes for Neb, but is almost too late. He does find and board 'the ship that sailed the moon.' On the ocean, Vlad Li Tam and the remnants of his kin follow a ghost southeast, seeking answers at the Moon Wizard's Ladder.

After an assassination attempt, Rudolfo sends Jin Li Tam and Jakob to the Machtvolk for safety - Winters accompanies them and pays a high price to redeem what she perceives as her previous failure of her people. Rudolfo finds surprises in his Forest and in his own household that almost break him. And Jin Li Tam, understanding that she is 'her father's daughter after all', sets out to fulfill a perilous role her Grandfather set in motion. As this episode ends, the Blood Guard of the Crimson Empress have been loosed in the Named Lands, while key characters sail into the unknown, setting the scene nicely for what follows.

It's an amazing series, one of the most exciting fantasy epics ever. Ken Scholes has laid out a grand strategy game, played out over centuries, in which individual's entire lives make only miniscule moves on the board. I've been hooked since Lamentation and can't wait to find out what subtle surprises are ahead in books four and five, Requiem and Hymn.

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