The Lost Art

The Lost Art

4.3 6
by Simon Morden

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A MILLENNIUM AFTER the formidable war machines of the User cultures devoured entire civilizations and rewrote planetary geography, Earth is in the grip of a perpetual Dark Age. Scientific endeavor is strongly discouraged, while remnant technology is locked away—hidden by a Church determined to prevent a new Armageddon.
This is the world to which Benzamir

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A MILLENNIUM AFTER the formidable war machines of the User cultures devoured entire civilizations and rewrote planetary geography, Earth is in the grip of a perpetual Dark Age. Scientific endeavor is strongly discouraged, while remnant technology is locked away—hidden by a Church determined to prevent a new Armageddon.
This is the world to which Benzamir Michael Mahmood must return. A descendant of the tribes who fled the planet during those ages old wars, he comes in pursuit of enemies from the far reaches of space. The technology he brings is wondrous beyond the imaginings of those he will meet, but can its potency match that of the Church’s most closely guarded treasure?
For centuries it has lain dormant, but it is about to be unearthed, and the powers that will be unleashed may be beyond anyone’s capacity to control. Even a man as extraordinary as Benzamir . . .

Editorial Reviews

KLIATT - Dr. Lesley Farmer
The Earth has turned, and its inhabitants have reverted to pre-industrial practices. A remote Siberian monastery holds a set of book written by the Users, the most advanced people before the Turn. When an unknown force destroys the monastery and steals the books, the lone surviving monk, Va, sets out to find the books and return them to the religious patriarch. A princess also witnesses the massacre, having followed Va for years in unrequited love. The two of them cross the Continent all the way to Kenya to where the books have landed. Concurrently, Benzamir Michael Mahmood, a visitor from another planet and a descendant of the earlier Users who escaped Earth, comes back to his ancestral planet. Some of his "tribe" want to save the Earth by reintroducing scientific advances, which are much more sophisticated than the Users even imagined. Benzamir represents those who want to leave the Earth alone. Va had been a warrior and now has renounced all violence. Benzamir does not want to use his advanced technology. Coming from opposite mindsets and parts of the universe, they need each other to save the books from destroying the world. This SF tale poses interesting questions about faith, purpose, and means to noble ends. The characters personify different perspectives and their interaction. Enough plot twists keep the reader thoroughly engaged. While the ending strains credibility, the overall story is a satisfying read. The intended audience is middle school and early high school, but the story is not childlike. However, the treatment of the violence and romance is subtle enough that the story will be inoffensive to younger YA readers. Reviewer: Dr. Lesley Farmer
VOYA - Stacey Hayman
This reviewer wonders whether this book might be a strange adaptation of Mad Max. Is it meant to be a religious tolerance treatise? Could it be a prologue/prequel to a book that has yet to be released? One sloughs through myriad pages, hoping to find something that could be pointed to with an "Ah ha! So that's what this book is about!" kind of excitement. That never quite happened. It is difficult to explain the possible plot other than that there are two groups searching for a book of lost technology that can be dangerous to an already decimated, post-apocalyptic-style Earth. The main players are composed of a religiously centered man and his unrequited love, a descendant of man returned to Earth from a distant planet, and the shadowy group who stole the book from a monastery. The good guys are made fairly obvious, and there are many near-death adventures which become the highlights of this book. The publisher indicates that the story is appropriate for readers aged twelve and up, but there are multiple four-letter words and a strange adult relationship between the almost-monk and his companion. This reader struggled to decipher which characters were important and what was going on with all the philosophical, metaphysical-type speeches within the different groups. This book could appeal to older teens and adults who prefer to contemplate the fragile nature of the world and relationships but not to readers looking for fast-paced adventure with a little destruction on the side. Reviewer: Stacey Hayman
Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
Va is a mad Russian monk who is on a quest to find and destroy books. Benzamir is an alien who is on a quest to find and save the same books—and who is totally charmed by the ancient world into which he has been dropped. Solomon is a rogue Kenyan who has stolen one of the books and is attempting to make his fortune by using its mysteries. Elenya is a princess who is obsessed by her love for Va. Alessandra is an ex-slave who deals in forbidden books. . . . British physicist Morden's action-filled, page-turning fantasy of an Earth sunken back into the Dark Ages wraps all these characters together. Rare for fantasy, Morden's characters live and breathe. The reader shares Benzamir's intense pleasure as he tastes his first olive, and cheers him on as he cleverly defeats his enemies and recruits Said and the boy Wahir as his faithful sidekicks. In fact, the resolution of the plot becomes secondary to the interplay of the individuals within it. Morden obviously had fun recreating a superstition-filled world in which even the reinvention of the grist mill is received with fear and awe in equal measure. Humor, passion, treachery—it's all here. As for the mysterious books themselves? Could they be a red-herring for Morden's own creation? Dive in for the solution and enjoy the ride! Reviewer: Kathleen Karr
School Library Journal

Gr 6-9

On a future Earth, the people's way of life and technology have been turned back in a Reversal, and the very geography of the planet has been rearranged. The Users, who one might assume are today's superpowers, caused much destruction and the Reversal centuries before, and their books hold all of their dangerous knowledge, the Lost Art. In order to prevent such a tragedy from recurring, the books have been hidden away in a remote Russian monastery. Now, they have been stolen. The monastery is destroyed, the monks slaughtered. Only Va, a former soldier and assassin and now-repentant monk, survives. He sets off on a mission to recover the volumes. Meanwhile, Benzamir Mahmood and his enemies, traitorous former friends whose ancestors had escaped the User's destruction centuries earlier, have returned to Earth. Benzamir is seeking the books and his enemies in order to prevent them from interfering with life on Earth. Ultimately, Va and Benzamir join forces. Along with their various traveling companions, they go to the African desert where a final confrontation between Benzamir and his enemies occurs. What starts off as a promising novel is, in the end, disappointing. The idea of the Reversal, the Users, and the changes to society where there are pale Ewer slaves and Middle Eastern and African countries appear to be dominant is interesting and another way to convey the dangers of modern technology and our world. Yet the overly long story tends to drag in places, and there are too many competing story lines and characters, making it difficult to connect or empathize with any of them.-Jennifer D. Montgomery, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green

Kirkus Reviews
In the far-distant future, a set of secret, miraculous books detailing the lost technologies of the dim past are stolen from a monastery in what was once Russia. Former assassin-turned-Monk Va and brash, smitten princess Eleyna set off to get them back. Meanwhile, mysterious Benzamir and a couple of desert locals set off in search of Benzamir's enemies. The two groups come together and find that their goals are far from mutually exclusive. The complex adventure plays out across an Earth turned (literally) upside-down by technologies long forgotten. The world and its history are very well constructed, and the characters play out their conflicts, both inner and outer, in realistic fashion against this backdrop. Writer, editor and scientist Morden published two previous novels to acclaim in his native Britain. Published there last year, this is a philosophically challenging and at the same time action-packed science-fiction novel. A solid purchase for either teen or adult collections. (Science fiction. 14 & up)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.04(w) x 5.54(h) x 1.15(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The smell of smoke woke him up, and Va realized he should never have been asleep in the first place. He got back onto his knees in the forest clearing, wiped the cold fragments of pine needles from his face and blew out a breath that condensed into a white cloud. Above him, snow-laden branches creaked and swayed against a pale southern sky.

He shut his eyes and tried to empty his mind of the concerns of the world. His fingers tightened around the cross in his hands. He ignored the coarseness of his habit, the steady drip of ice water from the firs that patted his bowed head. His lips might be blue, but they could still move in the trembling mouthing of rote prayers.

The drift of the wind brought the smoke back to him. As it entered his nose, it touched that part of his memory which he had thought locked away for ever.

Va stood. He turned slowly, letting his senses tell him which way to go. Then, with a feeling bordering on sickness, he started to run. The tears that streamed down his face never dared to blind him.

The closer he got, the stronger the stench of fire and oil and meat became. He knew what it meant even though he couldn’t see through the forest. He hesitated only once, when he burst through the tree line and found that his world was on fire. Then he plunged through the swinging, smouldering gates of the monastery of Saint Samuil of Arkady. There were so many dead that Va couldn’t find anyone who could tell him what had happened.

The five-domed basilica glowed brightly from the inside. It didn’t stop him from going in, again and again, calling out, listening above the roar of the flames and the cracking of timbers for any kind of answer. He only retreated when overwhelmed by the smoke and the heat. He reeled out, his black habit steaming, his lungs choked with soot and harsh vapours. He rolled in the last of the spring snows to extinguish any embers that might have fallen on him, coughed until he vomited, then raised himself up for another attempt.

The doors to the church had been barred from the inside, burst by force from outside. Most of his brothers had died there, by sword and spear and club, even as they knelt in prayer. The floor was thick with boiling blood. Va pressed himself to the wall, trying to get round to the north aisle.

‘Brothers! Father! Can anyone hear me?’

The roof trusses started to snap, one by one, failing like falling dominoes. Va jumped for a window recess. Tiles rattled down in a shower, and the smoke whistled up through the hole. The sudden rush of air turned the blazing church into an inferno. The glass shattered, and he was alight. He fell backwards, outwards, through the window and into the mud.

Blessed mud: he twisted and turned, wallowing like a pig until all the flames were out. Then he crawled away on his hands and knees as the great central copper dome creaked and groaned, and plummeted into the nave. He was far enough away that the explosion of red-hot masonry only pattered the ground around him with smoking missiles.

He kept crawling until he was safe. Every building was burning. The dormitory, the workshops, the storehouses; even the trees in the orchard were smoking, their new green leaves brown and curled.

A pair of brown leather boots walked across his line of sight. They stopped, and when he moved his hand, they moved closer.


He tried to turn over. He was starting to feel the pain, and not just the pain but the loss. His world had just been torn in two.


She bent down and looked at him. ‘Are you going to die?’

His hands were blistered and cut. His face felt stiff and wet, and he couldn’t tell whether he was caked in dried mud or melted flesh. His throat was burning and his chest felt crushed. If it hurt this much, it must mean he was going to live.

‘Die? Not today.’

‘Oh.’ She walked away again but not so far that she couldn’t watch him gasp and twitch like a stranded fish. After a while she sat down on a low wall.

Va lay there, listening to the life he knew consumed by fire. He had been almost happy here. The rituals, the order, the brotherhood, the closeness of his community; they all served to quieten the voices inside. Now it was all gone. If he concentrated, he could hear their whispering beginning.

He levered himself to his knees and shuffled like a penitent over to where Elenya sat.

‘You look like shit,’ she said. ‘Are you sure you’re not going to die?’

‘Shut up, woman. No, don’t. Tell me what happened.’

‘There were – I don’t know – thirty or so men, maybe more. I was gathering firewood when I heard them coming, and I was certain I didn’t want to meet them. So I hid.’

‘Then what?’

‘I waited until they’d all gone past. Every one of them was on horseback; it didn’t take long. They just stormed in, killing as they found them. Some of the monks barricaded themselves in the church but that didn’t hold much hope, really.’ She shrugged. ‘It was over very quickly. They came, slaughtered everyone and left. Not quite. There were two big thunderclaps. I don’t know what they were. They didn’t come from the sky.’

Va got to his feet, staggered, almost put out his hand to steady himself on Elenya’s shoulder, but at the last moment managed to grab a gatepost instead. ‘The scriptorium.’

‘I don’t think there’ll be anything left of that.’

‘No, you don’t understand. The books.’

‘Va, they’ll be ash by now.’

‘No they won’t.’ He started walking painfully towards the burning annexe to the dormitory. ‘Don’t think that we haven’t tried.’

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