#Diversiverse Review: Karen Lord – The Best of All Possible Worlds

diversiverse3I’m a little ashamed to admit how long this book has been sitting on my TBR pile. I got a review copy right before it first came out and have only managed to finish it now. But being unread for a while is no judgement on the book’s quality and I am so glad I read this for Aarti’s A More Diverse Universe challenge. I liked this much more than Redemption in Indigo despite some minor qualms.

untitledTHE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS
by Karen Lord

Published by: Del Rey, 2013
Ebook: 325 pages
Standalone
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: He always set aside twelve days of his annual retreat to finish reports and studies, and that left twelve more for everything else.

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.

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I know Karen Lord as a playful, witty writer who retold a Senegalese folktale in Redemption in Indigo. As she ventures into science fiction, she shows that there is much more to her than that.

As the Sadiri’s home planet is destroyed and they lose the majority of their population in one blow, extinction seems inevitable. A small group of Sadiri come to the planet Cygnus Beta to scout for appropriate wives for the largely male survivors of the disaster. With a deep desire to keep their culture and genetic lines alive, finding fitting wives is not an easy task.
Grace Delarua, the narrator of this story, joins the Sadiri on their mission and travels across the planet for likely candidates to help the Sadiri race survive.

Delarua’s narration is fresh and charming, full of humor and passion, and so creates the perfect balance between her personality and that of the Sadiri, above them all Dllenahkh, seemingly cold and reserved. The Sadiri, renowned telepaths, keep their emotions to themselves, if indeed they have any. Their thoughts are impossible to read on their faces, their body language gives away nothing. To juxtapose such people with open and outspoken Delarua just made their differences more visible and the entire book more interesting. Discovering more about Sadiri culture, about their customs and their use of telepathy, is what kept me reading wide-eyed and curiously.

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Once the group of scientists set off on their journey, among them gender-neutral Lian, the Sadiri Dllenahkh, Nasiha, and Tarik, as well as Cygnian doctor Queturah, the story becomes somewhat episodic. Every chapter narrates their discoveries in a different settlement which, most of the time, has little to do with whatever they learned in the last one. At this point, the novel felt a little stitched together like a quilt of smaller stories, none of them boring, but none of them properly glued together either. Some of these earlier chapters have no consequence on the larger plot whatsoever, others are an opportunity to give the characters depth and show the readers more about them. The visit to Delarua’s family, for example, opened a world of questions, only some of which are answered. It was a great exercise in world-building without bogging down the narration, of character growth and development on several levels, and it was the point – for me – where the story really kicked off.

After that, Karen Lord put more focus on her characters and their reaction to whatever settlement they visit at the time. What fascinated me most, apart from Sadiri culture in general, was the sense of doom hanging over Dllenahkh at all times. By losing their home planet, most Sadiri have lost people close to them. Partners, children, parents, and grandparents, and that tragedy is felt in almost every chapter. To make things worse, they are facing extinction if they don’t find suitable wives for their single (or newly-single) men to keep the race going. They are a proud people and want to keep their culture alive as well as their genetics. It’s not just about finding a wife they like but it’s about genetic and cultural compatibility. As they pass settlement after settlement without much success, their desperation becomes more and more clear. Karen Lord does a phenomenal job of conveying that dread and fear without ever actually saying it. No exposition is needed as it becomes clear through the characters’ actions and emotions. And, yes, after a while, the readers learn to interpret Sadiri emotions, just as Delarua does.

best of all possible worlds alt coverThe closer to the end you get, the clearer it becomes that The Best of All Possible Worlds is also a love story. Furtive glances, accidental touches, and all the other little things that people do to get closer to each other, are difficult enough within one’s own culture. Try the same thing across two cultures that are so vastly different and you’ve got a really thrilling tale of romance. For the romance-deniers among you, don’t worry. There is nothing cheesy or cliché about this story. Even the end, which felt a little too perfect at first glance, struck me as utterly real and honest after a little while.

I had started reading this book around its publication and then stopped reading because its episodic nature made it easy to put down after a chapter. This time, I pushed through the beginning up to the moment I got hooked. And then there was no stopping me. I enjoyed this far more than the author’s debut, Redemption in Indigo, simply because it focused more on characters and matters that offer food for thought. Culture, race, gender, relationships, they all find a place in The Best of All Possible Worlds, and they do so effortlessly. Nothing feels forced, nothing feels fake. Sure, the narration could have used some tightening, some red thread to follow, especially in the early chapters, but even those weren’t ever boring.

I think Karen Lord is finding her voice (in a delightful way, might I add) and I believe she will only get better and better. I am now really curious about the quasi-sequel, The Galaxy Game, which will follow Delarua’s nephew Rafi. The author has created a fantastic world, one that I’m not done exploring.

RATING: 8/10  –  Excellent

EDIT: Squee! I got an e-ARC of The Galaxy Game via NetGalley. Thank you, my day is made. Now I only need to restrain myself until January (or its vicinity) before reading and posting a review.

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7 thoughts on “#Diversiverse Review: Karen Lord – The Best of All Possible Worlds

  1. Redhead says:

    What a beautiful review! I finished The Best Of All Possible Worlds a few days ago, and just loved every page of it. Yes, it gets a little episodic in the middle, but that’s ok. Those chapters let me see other cultures of the planet, that settlers are generally allowed to set up a village and live however they want to.

    I’d heard about Lord’s new book, The Galaxy Game, and had noticed the main character was named Rafi (hey, that name sounds familiar!), what a joy to learn it takes place in the same universe as Best of All Possible Worlds.

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    • Nadine says:

      I got a review copy yesterday via NetGalley *squee*
      Since the book doesn’t come out until January I will probably make this a Christmas read. If I can hold it together this long…

      You’re right about the world-building in those middle-chapters. I was never bored when reading them, but on my first try, I would read a chapter, put the book aside and then not feel inclined to continue reading because nothing really gripping had happened. Or, due to the episodic nature of the chapter, the gripping thing was over and wrapped up nicely, with the group already on their way to the next place. It’s not bad the way it is – in fact it’s nice not always to find a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter – but it wasn’t an edge of your seat kind of middle part.
      I still loved it in the end and can’t wait to see what Rafi is up to in The Galaxy Game.

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  2. Jenny @ Reading the End says:

    I do want to read Karen Lord’s new book when it comes out. I started The Best of All Possible Worlds and was really, really not loving it, so I put it down. I figured, she’s a young writer, this is an early work, better to keep my mind fresh for her better books as they’re coming out. So I am hoping to read The Galaxy Game next year, and I expect good things. 🙂

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  3. aartichapati says:

    I am so glad you feel like Lord is getting better as she continues in her career, especially because, as Jenny says, she’s young 🙂 So much to look forward to!

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  4. Carl V. Anderson says:

    “I had started reading this book around its publication and then stopped reading because its episodic nature made it easy to put down after a chapter.”

    I had to laugh as that is exactly what happened to me. I had heard so many wonderful things about this book on podcasts before its release and I snagged it immediately and dived right in. Only to set it aside, EVEN THOUGH I LIKED IT, only to pick it up nearly a year later to devour it.

    As a fan of short stories I actually really liked the episodic structure of the novel, and yet it did make it easy at the time to put it down because of other distractions. That being said, I think the structure worked in its favor as it is very different novel as well. I’m a sucker for love stories, so I was very pleased with that element, and I was also fascinated with the examination of culture written in a way that felt like exploration rather than a thinly veiled social message. I feel it is actually a stronger book and has a lot more relevancy because of that.

    The next book in this universe, The Galaxy Game, is due out soon. Really looking forward to it.

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    • Nadine says:

      I have a copy of The Galaxy Game on my e-reader and I’m planning on reading it during the holidays. Curled up on the couch with a blanket and a steaming cup of tea is the best way to enjoy a book if you ask me. Especially if it’s snowing outside. Fingers crossed. 🙂

      The love story in The Best of All Possible Worlds was just wonderful and in retrospect, I didn’t mind the book’s episodic nature either. It was just like you said. When you’re reading it, after a chapter is done, it’s almost too easy to put the book down. But then again, the world is too interesting to never pick it up again, even if it takes a year. I’m really curious to see where Karen Lord takes us in The Galaxy Game.

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      • Carl V. Anderson says:

        That’s awesome! I noticed on Amazon that the book is listed for Kindle on December 18th and for paperback in January. Seems odd, but I plan on reading the electronic version anyway, so hopefully I’ll be doing that over the holidays as well.

        I’ve been strongly considering re-reading The Best of All Possible Worlds before then. I read it…or rather finished it…in December last year.

        I certainly hope she can capture the same magic in The Galaxy Game. I like that it is splintering off with a different character.

        I’ve seen reviews for this book, most positive, a few negative, cropping up a lot here over the past few weeks which is why these characters have been on my mind a lot of late and why I want to re-read it.

        My only complaint about the book at all is that the cover for the hardback was problematic to me. This cover is lovely.

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