Lament for the Fallen opens in Africa at some point in the future. When exactly isn’t clear, but it’s post 21st century. Joshua and his companions have worked hard to make their village, Ewuru, self-reliant, and they guard and protect it against the warlords and militia that seek to wreak havoc.
One day, they witness an object falling from the sky. Seeking it out, they discover a ruined vessel, and in it, a man. But Samara is unlike any other human they’ve ever come across, and seems almost superhuman. The villagers gradually learn of his past – of his diplomatic mission, his incarceration in a space prison, Tartarus, and his eventual escape. Incidentally, Tartarus is also the name of a dungeon in Greek mythology, which I assume is deliberate – I love novels that include little elements of mythology like this.
Now Samara needs the help of these villagers, so that he can return to his people (and the woman he loves), and to take action against the abomination that is Tartarus, where inmates are left isolated and alone to go insane and eventually die, with no hope of rehabilitation.
The reality presented in Lament for the Fallen is a stark, brutal one, and various atrocities are committed throughout the novel. These aren’t lingered on – this isn’t a novel revelling in unnecessary gory detail – but certain elements do make for unpleasant reading. Given the technological advancements that have occurred in the time the novel is set , it seems that society, at least for the villagers of Ewuru, hasn’t moved on at all, and may even have regressed in some ways. I found that this to be an interesting and original aspect of the novel; many novels set in the future have changed in some way (not always for the better), yet in Lament for the Fallen, technology has progressed, but society hasn’t moved along with it. At least not in rural Nigeria.
Another aspect of Lament for the Fallen that I really enjoyed was the inclusion of traditional, oral storytelling to both entertain and teach. There are a few stories told within the novel by various characters, and I thought that these were a wonderful inclusion in the novel, and I found them to be original and varied. Again, this seemed to be an element of their society that hasn’t really changed much since today.
If I have any small niggle with this novel (and it is a small niggle), it’s that I felt that some of the technological changes needed a little extra explanation. I didn’t always understand what a certain thing did, or what it was used for, and I found this to be a little distracting from the main story line. The fault may lie with me, of course, but I finished the novel with some unanswered questions that I felt may have made certain things clearer.
Overall, Lament for the Fallen is a wonderful, well-written debut, and I can’t wait to see what Chait produces next.
Lament for the Fallen will be published on 28 July by Doubleday. Many thanks to Ben Willis and the publisher for the ARC.