2013. ebook. 308 pages.
Recommendation from: Iris on Books (though I can’t find her review now)
The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord was the first book of 2017 that I really escaped into, and it was such a relief to fall under its spell, as my mind had become rather consumed by the news in recent weeks.
It is not a dark novel, but the premise of Lord’s book starts with a genocide. The Sadiri planet was fatally poisoned by a rival planet, and only the expatriate and off-world Sadiri (mostly men) are left to carry on their people’s culture and traditions. (In culture and mental capabilities, the Sadiri are reminiscent of the Vulcans from Star Trek.)
A group of Sadiri are sent to the Cygnus Beta colony to investigate it as a possible new home. The Cygnus Beta planet is inhabited by a variety of people groups, and the Sadiri hope to find prospective mates among them who can help keep the Sadiri ways alive for future generations.
The main character is a government scientist of the Cygnus Beta colony named Grace Delarua. Due in part to her rapport with Sadiri councillor Dllenahkh, Delarua ends up on a field assignment that takes her, Dllenahkh and a team of Sadiri and Cygnian government employees on an investigative tour of far-flung Cygnian settlements.
The structure of The Best of All Possible Worlds is episodic, but not in a bad way. It’s kind of like a season of television. Almost every visit to a new settlement includes a little mini-story arc. (Instead of mystery-of-the-week, a TV version of the story would have “settlement of the week”). The various cultures and traditions of the settlements are fascinating. It reminded me of C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader in some ways.
The novel’s ensemble game is strong. Although the relationship between Dllenahkh and Delarua forms a major plotline, Lord has made the group dynamics just as important, and the growing bond between them is readily apparent.
Most of the novel is narrated by Delarua, and I was delighted by her humor and accessibility as a main character. It’s actually laugh out loud funny at times. Another amusing aspect: one of the people groups in this universe is called Terran, which is quite obviously of Earth origin, and it’s fun to see which cultural objects made it to Lord’s far-future setting.
I don’t think this novel will appeal to everyone, but I hope that if any of the story elements above sound intriguing to you, that you will give it a shot because it’s really such a lovely book. Also, I found out after finishing the book that Karen Lord is from Barbados, so if you’re looking to diversify your reading, this may be one to add to your reading stack. I hope to read her first book, Redemption in Indigo, at some point.
Excerpts from others’ reviews:
Lilia Ford – “… it proceeds with a remarkable absence of the usual melodrama, speechifying and point-hammering that you might expect to find in this kind of story. Instead the ideas and connections emerge almost invisibly through the sum of many encounters, many scenes, where the point is often not obvious.” (Lilia was sold on this novel by someone telling her that it was Jane Austen Star Trek.)
Me, You and Books – “…somehow, the whole of the novel is greater than its parts. I can’t describe this or that aspect of the novel—its descriptions, characters, plots—as exceptional, but I was totally mesmerized by it.”
Wendy (Bibliosanctum) – “Reading this book gave me the feeling of being comfortable no matter where I was. I felt like I was sitting in my cozy reading chair with these characters, enjoying the story as it quietly unfolded. It’s probably not a coincidence that the story is told in the first person by Delarua, who has the innate ability to calm those around her, even while being a very emotionally expressive person with empathic abilities.”