Yesterday Del Rey published the new book, The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord, her second novel. Her first novel, Redemption in Indigo, won the 2008 Frank Collymore Literary Award, the 2011 William L. Crawford Award, and the 2011 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature, and was nominated for the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. When I received the book, I picked it up to read the first chapter and finished two easily. It’s always a good sign when the prose sucks you in.
After reading Charlie Jane Ander’s review over at io9 – it’s their book club pick for March – I decided to read a few more chapters. Between Darth Real Life, editing Wynde, and blogging I haven’t a spare second in the day, but I was intrigued enough to make time. While Lord could use some more consideration to her choice of POV – the story drifts from first person for the female protagonist to third person for the male protagonist – and at times her tenses shift awkwardly, I found myself thoroughly engaged in the story. Lord takes the concept of science fiction and fantasy to heart and does her own thing. The book is full of a detailed and rich world-building that transforms familiar Earthisms into a new and different place that projects who and what we might become. It’s obvious Lord has seen much of our world and brought the many cultures of Earth into a mixing pot of her imagination to create fanciful unique cultures on Cygnus Beta.
What impressed me most was how well Lord deals with weaknesses in her female protagonist, Grace Delarua. She is undoubtedly strong-willed and competent, yet along the way we learn that she has been abused by a family member. While it is a man who helps her acknowledge the abuse, it is Grace who makes the decision to do something about it, to save herself and others. The ramifications for Grace and her family are treated respectfully and honestly. There is a fine line between showing victimization and writing characters who choose to not become victims. You won’t find a tired worn female version of the sexually red-shirted trope in this book.
The Best of All Possible Worlds isn’t your usual science fiction fare, nor is it the best, but it’s a delightful read. Lord has been compared to modern storytellers like Mieville or Le Guin, and a few early reviews liken it to Jane Austen. The prose is creative and the characters are vibrant, each with their own voice. It is the emotional connection for the characters that moves the reader along. If the book is lacking, it is in action and plot pacing. Essentially, the dramatic events that precipitate the ending happen because it’s time to wrap up the journey, as opposed to a natural raising of tension in the external plotline.
The cast is diverse sexually and racially, which makes sense as the novel definitely has a Star Trek vibe. If you have pined for Spock or a Vulcan, then this is the novel for you. In fact the opening is remarkably like a major plot point in the recent Abrams’ movie reboot. (But if we’re going to talk about borrowing, the reboot movie’s plot point happens to be a major plot point in a Star Wars movie.) I’m perfectly fine with that because, like Star Trek, the story dares to use a brash act of terrorism to challenge our notions about who we are and what we might become.
For a mix of science fiction, unique world-building, and romance that isn’t too mushy, definitely try The Best of All Possible Worlds.
A proud and reserved alien society finds its homeland destroyed in an unprovoked act of aggression, and the survivors have no choice but to reach out to the indigenous humanoids of their adopted world, to who they are distantly related. They wish to preserve their cherished way of life but come to discover that in order to preserve their culture, they may have to change it forever.
A man and a woman from these two clashing societies must work together to save the vanishing race. In the process, they will discover ancient mysteries with far-reaching ramifications. As their mission hangs in the balance, this unlikely duo—one cool and cerebral, the other fiery and impulsive—will find their own destinies in each other and a force that transcends all.
Disclosure: FANgirl Blog was provided a review copy of this book by Del Rey.
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