Posting an honest review in exchange for a free copy of a book is a good deal, no question. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel slightly guilty when I don’t like a book that was given to me for free. Sure, writing reviews – positive or negative – generates buzz and will probably do the book’s sales more good than harm. But of course I’d prefer to only read books I love rather than ones that disappoint me the way this one did.
Published by: Jo Fletcher Books, 2015
Ebook: 336 pages
Series: The Best of All Possible Worlds #2 (sort of)
My rating: 4/10
First sentence: The only cure for a sleepless night was to lie in bed and watch the constellations projected on his ceiling.
For years, Rafi Delarua saw his family suffer under his father’s unethical use of psionic power. Now the government has Rafi under close watch but, hating their crude attempts to analyse his brain, he escapes to the planet Punartam, where his abilities are the norm, not the exception. Punartam is also the centre for his favourite sport, wallrunning – and thanks to his best friend, he has found a way to train with the elite.
But Rafi soon realises he’s playing quite a different game, for the galaxy is changing; unrest is spreading and the Zhinuvian cartels are plotting, making the stars a far more dangerous place to aim. There may yet be one solution – involving interstellar travel, galactic power and the love of a beautiful game.
In The Best of All Possible Worlds, a book I needed to start twice but ended up loving, Grace Delarua was a fascinating character. Her nephew, Rafi, grew up in strange and difficult circumstances, giving him the potential to be even more exciting to follow than his aunt. The book blurb makes it sound like this story follows Rafi as a main character. That is a lie.
My problems with The Galaxy Game all lead to one big mistake by the author – not picking a main character. There simply was none. Rafi felt more like a side character, showing up occasionally but never being the center of the plot. Rafi’s friend Ntenman tells his parts of the story through first person narrative (for some unfathomable reason, because he is also not the protagonist). Add to that a whole bunch of other side characters, whose parts – like Rafis’s – are told through third person. Sometimes the jumps between first and third person happen within one chapter. One should think that the singled-out first person narrator in a story otherwise told through third person is supposed to be the center of the plot. But that is also not true. We have Rafi, we have Ntenman (who is, unlike the others, at least interesting), there is Serendipity, there are a bunch of others whose names become more and more ridiculous and unpronouncable, and there are cameos by old friends from the first book.
I simply didn’t know who to hold on to. Whose story was I following here exactly? Then again, there are many great novels that don’t focus on one character but on a large cast. If that is what the author wants to do, great, but then they should be careful that the connections between characters and the story that is told make sense.
The Galaxy Game starts out well enough. The prologue offers a glimpse into the future, showing us Rafi as he will be. Now, what drove me to read on was wanting to find out how he got to be that person, how he came to be in that place at that time. The first part of the novel is still somewhat coherent. It introduces Rafi and his two friends, Ntenman and Serendipity, as well as showing the life Grace and Dllenakh are leading now. Considering Rafi’s past experience with psi-abilities, I was hoping for more insight into that sort of life. The Lyceum is a school exactly for kids like Rafi, kids who don’t know their own power yet and should learn to use it fairly. But we don’t get to see any of that. At least Rafi and his friends are introduced and we learn of their relationships with each other, secret crushes included.
But once Rafi leaves for Punartam, things go topsy turvy. I liked certain ideas that Karen Lord presents in this book but none of them were fleshed out enough for me really get into. Social networks have extremely high value on Punartam, and ones connections can even be used like currency. To this moment, I don’t fully understand the wallrunning game – whether that is my fault for reading when tired or Karen Lord’s fault for explaining it badly, I can’t say. The people Rafi meets on Punartam all blur together in my memory. Not only are their at least seven-syllabic names impossible to remember, some of their names were so similar that I confused two characters that really shouldn’t be confused. This may sound nitpicky but choosing names is an important part of writing a good story. The names took me out of what was already a weak plot. I frequently put the book away and only picked it up out of a feeling of obligation (because review copy).
Also on Punartam, we are shown some political difficulties the galaxy is facing. There are talks about transportation, about New Sadira going crazy about keeping its “pure” bloodlines alive (references to which will only make sense if you’ve read The Best of All Possible Worlds, btw.) and there is an underworld and bets about Wallrunning games, and I don’t even know what the point of it all was. The story lacked focus. It was all over the place but stayed nowhere for long enough. Is it about a futuristic sport? About exploring different cultures? About a young man growing up? Intergalactic politics? Well, none of the above but also kind of all of them. It felt like the author tried to stuff too many things into one story and – because of that – didn’t focus on any of them properly.
Later in the novel, politics become more and more important (and less and less understandable) and Big Changes may happen to upset the order of the entire world. But, seeing as I never had a chance to care for any of the characters, these events left me cold and unimpressed. See, a book with bad plot and great characters is still a good book. A book with bad characters and a riveting plot may be a decent summer read. But a book with a jumpy plot, no focus, and mediocre, underdeveloped characters – that’s just not a good book, no matter how I twist and turn it.
I was very disappointed, especially because The Best of All Possible Worlds was such a careful, character-focused story in a world that had so much potential. The Galaxy Game reads like a hurried effort to write a quasi-sequel without plan or plot or care. I still love Grace Delarua and Dllenakh, but I can’t say I will remember Rafi, Ntenman or any of the others long after reading The Galaxy Game. I really like Karen Lord, but this book was a galaxy-sized mess.
MY RATING: 4/10 – Not good