Published: 1st January 2013 by Jo Fletcher Books
Format: Paperback, 325 pages
Genres: Science Fiction
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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 whom 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.
Now a man and a woman from these two clashing societies must work together to save this vanishing race—and end up uncovering ancient mysteries with far-reaching ramifications. As their mission hangs in the balance, this unlikely team—one cool and cerebral, the other fiery and impulsive—just may find in each other their own destinies . . . and a force that transcends all.
The sheer scale of this novel is impressive – the world-building, examination of social norms and portrayals of a variety of meaningful relationships all left me in awe. This is the first book by Karen Lord that I have read, but I will be looking out for her works in the future – she’s landed herself in my ever growing list of amazing authors.
The Sadiri, whose home has been destroyed and the only survivors are those who were off-planet at the time, are the main concern of The Best of all Possible Worlds. Most of these survivors are men, leading to a gender imbalance that has grave implications for the survival of their race. Karen Lord skillfully and respectfully examines the goals of the Sadiri, especially their wish to choose female mates who are the best genetic matches for them. Our protagonist Delarua journeys around the Cygnus Beta, a cultural melting pot of the four different types of humans in this universe, with the Sadiri to collect DNA samples and increase the number of potential mates available to them.
Delarua is an interesting character, quirky and fun, surprisingly compassionate and very quick to learn how to deal with the Sadiri, who never do anything inappropriate and are reserved in the extreme. In fact, I’d initially feared the Sadiri would be quite boring, but Karen Lord, through Delura, shows us that they are just as varied and capable of emotion as other human races, they are just very subtle about it. It’s quite fun to see the non-Sadiri characters in the book slowly come to understand their less animated counterparts.
Karen Lord has created an impressive kaleidoscope of characters in this book, an impressive variety of female characters in particular. There are women who crave motherhood and others who have had to put it aside for their careers, women who want long-lasting monogamous relationships and others just out to have fun, women who are confident and have a high sense of self-worth. Women in bad relationships, women struggling to balance work and family, women of all different walks of life, all depicted wonderfully!
When I think back on the plot of The Best of all Possible Worlds, I’m struck by how much happened, and almost paradoxically, how little action is included. This is not the high-octane adventure of rapids and waterfalls. This is a tranquil jaunt along a slow-moving river, punctuated infrequently with mishaps that add to the action. In fact, a lot of the excitement occurs off-screen, with Delarua mentioning it in passing days after the fact. The style of the storytelling – the book is a log or report of the mission that Delarua has written after the fact – perhaps demands this, but I would have liked less blacking out and vagueness on her part, and a few more thrills.
I found the world-building admirable, especially considering that Lord not only managed to vividly paint Cygnus Beta and its rich and varied population, but also gave considerable insight into Sadira, the lost planet, New Sadira, its hastily sought replacement, and the plight of a whole population. I, like Delarua, sometimes got caught up in meeting the pockets of civilisation that the team visited and lost sight of the bigger picture – that the Sadiri have lost their world and most of their people, only to be reminded in the most harrowing ways. The only letdown is perhaps the sloppy creation myth which attempts to explain the existence of four different types of humans, and why Terrans were unaware of their otherworldly brethren for so long, which struck me as clumsy and rather fanciful (I do note that Delarua had the same reaction, so perhaps I wasn’t meant to take it too seriously).
The last word I have to share is about the Sadiri mission to continue their race and culture as far as possible.It’s something I’ve never had to think about before, and it’s a much more complex problem than simply ‘find a planet, find willing mates, and populate away’. The Sadiri, understandably, wish to preserve their genetic material as much as possible and further their culture of mental discipline. This requires a study into compatibility not only on a genetic scale, but also in terms of morality, values and culture. It’s fascinating how the author brings this aspect of the book to life.
The romance between Delarua and Dllenakh is heavily foreshadowed in another romance early in the novel, but again, the author has incorporated the differences in their outlooks, personalities, cultural differences and expectations very well. The romance is surprisingly powerful, considering it is very much a subplot, and I was slightly disappointed that Dllenakh considers kissing unhygienic – I think the book could be improved in that aspect 😉
The Best of all Possible Worlds is perfect for those looking for a new kind of story to read, one told without the usual trappings of the genre and envisioned in an innovative way. Although perhaps not the most thrilling of novels, this book gives new meaning to the phrase (which is mentioned in the narrative, actually) that still waters run deep.