M.R. Carey, who wrote remarkable zombie tale The Girl With All the Gifts, is one of our favourite authors here at Gizmodo. We’ve been lucky enough to share excerpts from his works in the past, and we’ve got another one for you now: a first look at the debut book in his new post-apocalyptic trilogy, The Book of Koli.
Here’s a brief description:
Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable landscape. A place where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don’t get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will.
Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He believes the first rule of survival is that you don’t venture too far beyond the walls. He’s wrong.
Mesmerising, thought-provoking, The Book of Koli begins a powerful new trilogy from one of the most inventive voices in contemporary fiction—the unforgettable story of a young boy struggling to find his place in a world where nature itself has turned against humanity.
And here are the covers — designed by Lisa Marie Pompilio, with cover photography by Blake Morrow — for all three books in the trilogy.
And finally, here’s the excerpt from The Book of Koli.
Everything that lives hates us, it sometimes seems. Or at least they come after us like they hate us. Things we want to eat fight back, hard as they can, and oftentimes win. Things that want to eat us is thousands strong, so many of them that we only got names for the ones that live closest to us. And the trees got their own ways to hurt us, blunt or subtle according to their several natures.
There’s shunned men too, that live in the deep forest and catch and kill us when they can. Nobody knowed back then who they was, whether they was just the faceless that had been throwed out of other villages or if they had got a village of their own that was hid somewhere, but they were monstrous cruel and worse than any beast.
Against these things, we of Mythen Rood, like every settlement of humankind, put up walls, hollowed out stake-blinds, set sentries, tried every way we could to pitch our own hate against the world’s hate, giving back as good or bad as we got. We digged ourselves in and weathered it, for what else was there to do?
Each season brung its own terrors down on us. In Winter, the cold could freeze your fingers off if you weren’t wary, and snow fell on top of snow until you couldn’t make your way without web-spreads or walkers. The snow was mostly just water set hard, but sometimes it had silver in it and that was dangerous. If you drunk snow-melt and didn’t sieve out the silver first, it could make you sick in your stomach. Old ones and babies could even die of it.
In Spring the snow thawed, which was a mercy, but sometimes—maybe one time in four or five—it would be a choker Spring, and you would get something else coming alongside the thaw. Of all our mortal threats, I was most mightily afraid of the choker seeds, because they attacked so fast and was so hard to fight. If a seed fell on your skin, you had got maybe a minute to dig it out again before the roots went in too deep. After that there wasn’t nothing anyone could do for you save to kill you right away before the seedling hollowed you out.
In Mythen Rood, the way we answered that was to try to stop the seeds from falling in the first place. As soon as the warmer weather come, Rampart Fire (which in my day was Catrin Vennastin) would send out runners to check the choker trees for blossom. If they found any, she would strap on the fire-thrower and walk the forest with ten strong spearmen, burning out the blossom before the trees could seed. The spearmen was to kill or fend off any beasts that might come, watching Catrin’s back and her two sides while she played the fire-thrower across the branches and seared the seeds inside their pods. Against the choker trees themselves there wasn’t any protecting that would avail, so Catrin and her spearmen only went out on days when the clouds was thick and heavy, and if the sun ’gun to show through they run as fast as they could for the clear ground.
Summer was hardest, because most things was woke and walking then. Knifestrikes flying straight down out of the sun so you couldn’t see them coming, molesnakes out of the ground, rats and wild dogs and needles out of the forest. Anything that was big and come by its own lonely self was give to Fer Vennastin to deal with. Fer was Rampart Arrow. She would take the creature down with one of her smart bolts. And if it was a drone that come, dropping out of the sky and throwing out its scary warning, one of Fer’s bolts would oftentimes do for that too. But she only just had the three of them, which meant someone always had to go out to bring the bolt back afterwards. We couldn’t afford to lose none.
If wild dogs or rats or knifestrike swarms come, we had a different way, which was Rampart Knife. Loop Vennastin had that name when I was younger, then Mardew passed the test and it was give to him when Loop died. When a swarm attacked, Rampart Knife would stand up on the fence or the lookout and carve the beasts into pieces as they come. Then we would cook and eat the meat as long as there was no worms or melters in it. Wormed meat or melted meat we kept well clear of, for even if you digged out what you could see there was always more you couldn’t.
I got to say, our fights against the rats was far between. Mostly it was hunters that seen them, a pack of ours crossing paths with a bunch of theirs in the deep woods and both going on their way, but watching each other out of sight with spears all up on our side and teeth and claws out on theirs.
Lots of people wondered how the rats could come through the forest even in the warmest weather, for it was plain they didn’t fear the sun. Then one time Perliu Vennastin, Rampart Remember, talked to the database about it. The database said the rats had got something inside them that sweated out onto their skin when the sun come out and kind of stopped the choker trees from closing tight on them, or choker seeds from breaking open on them and growing down into their bodies.
I guess I don’t need to tell you how wonderful a thing that would of been for us, to be able to walk through the forest without fear. Trees was our biggest problem, always, and the reason why we lived the way we did. The reason why there was a clear space inside the fence, fifty strides wide, that we burned with fire and sowed with salt. The reason why we never went out to hunt except on days when there was rain or overcast, and why the dog days of Summer meant dried meat if you was lucky, root mash and hard tack if you wasn’t. The reason why we seen the world as being made up out of three parts, which was the village, the little strip between the fence and the stake-blind that we called the half-outside, and everything else beyond.
Choker trees growed fast and tall, and they growed in any ground. The onliest way to keep them back was to uproot or burn out every seed that fell. If a seed landed in the ground, and no one seen it, it would be three feet high by lock-tide and taller than a man come morning.
I know it wasn’t always like that. If you’re going to tell a story about the world that was lost, you’ll most likely start it with “In the old times, when trees was slow as treacle . . .” But our trees wasn’t like that at all. Our trees was fast as a whip.
If you come across one tree by itself, that didn’t matter so much. You might get a whack, but you could pick yourself up from that. If you was out in the forest though, and the clouds peeled off and the sun come through with no clearing close by, then Dandrake help you. The trees would commence to lean in on you from every side, and pretty soon there’d be no room for you to move between them. Then they’d close in all the way and crush you dead.
Excerpt from M.R. Carey’s The Book of Koli reprinted by permission. Copyright Orbit.
The Book of Koli will be released April 14, 2020. You can pre-order a copy here.