• The Good: Killer trees, ancient magical technology
  • The Bad: Standard YA dystopian fare
  • The Literary: Written in broken future English (double negatives, weird verb tenses) including folksy phonetic spellings

Koli lives in the small hamlet of Mythen Rood, a rural, walled village of 200-ish people cut off from the post-apocalyptic world beyond. No ones dare leave because the overgrown forests are filled with deadly plants that move and can kill a man in seconds, not to mention the outcast shunned men. But when Koli breaks several rules and threatens the power dynamic of the community, he too is forced out into the wild.

I like a lot of things about this book. In a future “Ingland”, trees and plants have become vicious predators after becoming fed up with climate change. People retreat into tiny villages cut off from other humans, relying on ancient technology that they don’t understand. Even though living predator trees may feel like myth to us as readers, the “magic” tech of our world is rich with wild tall-tales of the past. And even if Koli is a serious and angry teenager, there’s still a lot of humor, particularly in the old characters and, unexpectedly, the tech.

One major downfall of this book is the inaccurate expectations set by the marketing. The book cover and jacket highlight deadly forests, and while the plants are captivating world-building, they’re really just scenery, an impersonal threat for a very small part of the book, and they only factor into the plot to explain why humans have retreated into their remote villages. Most of the book takes place inside the walls of one village or another, minimizing the plant threat.

So what’s The Book of Koli really about? It begins as a familiar YA dystopia in which a young man is trapped in a role he isn’t sure he wants; he likes a girl who doesn’t like him back; he doesn’t excel in the coming-of-age ceremony; he visits a village elder only to find out a secret that uncovers the injustices of his community and changes his life forever. All in all, standard fare. But at some point, the book picks up steam and the heart of the story finally emerges.

Within the coming-of-age plot, there’s a lovely buddy story between Koli and his stolen tech. The climax of the book returns to the tried and true YA formula when Koli stands up to power hungry individuals who are keeping humans cut off from one another and in the dark ages. It’s unfortunate that Koli as a character falls so short compared to the AI who lives in Koli’s tech. And even its story is presented in a series of info-dumps that Koli doesn’t completely understand and therefore underwhelms the emotion of the reveal.

Lastly, the product placement that highlights the previous giants of tech is jarring, unnecessary, and feels a little dirty in this medieval world, with a protagonist who doesn’t benefit from this information anyway.

Recommended for fans of standard YA dystopian fare.