This book is what I got the fiancé for Valentines day. Instead of chocolates and bullshit, (or as some have said all dudes want, steak and a blowjob) we got each other a book by an author neither of us had read before so we could spend time together doing one of our favorite things in the world, talking about books! He enjoyed it a lot but said it wasn’t really his kind of book. Which is sad face, because, spoiler alert for the review below, it’s fantastic.
Now! On to the review!
Karen Lord has crafted a rich world populated with a variety of realistic peoples, landscapes and concepts. It starts off with a brief chapter about our secondary protagonist Dllenahkh meditating at a secluded sanctuary far from his home. He is interrupted by a close friend informing him that their homeworld of Sadira has been destroyed. Smash cut to a year later on Cygnus Beta, one of the already populated worlds that has been chosen for the resettlement of the remaining Sadiri where we meet our main protagonist Grace Delarua. She is a liaison of sorts from the Cygnian government to the Sadiri settlements in her area, almost like a social worker for refugees. She works with Dllenakh to help the Sadiri remain comfortable and become a part of Cygnian society.
Due to the patriarchal nature of Sadiran society, most of the people who were off world when the destruction happened were men. The colony of Sadiri on Cygnus Beta are made up entirely of men and Dllenahkh and Grace are tasked with trying to find mates for them among the residents of Cygnus Beta. There are small societies scattered all over the planet who can trace their ancestry back to Sadira and maintain a kind of genetic purity by encouraging people to marry within their group. Grace and Dllenakh, along with a small group of scientists, some of whom are Sadiri set off on a yearlong mission to visit these places and hopefully find a solution to the Sadiri problem. The story takes place from a little before this mission to a few months afterwards and is told in an episodic style, with each stop usually taking up one chapter.
There is one overarching plot to this story, however each chapter usually has it’s own story embedded within it. They arrive at their destination, discover conflict and often times achieve some kind of resolution before moving on to the next spot. They are not always successful at resolving the issue and sometimes it costs them a great deal. However I found the smaller stories contained within the chapters of the novel to build nicely on each other. The fiance compared this book to a season of a tv show, and I think that is very appropriate for how it is written.
Because of this style choice the pacing feels even throughout the book, almost as though it were measured out. While the pacing and stylistic choice works well to bring the story to a conclusion it can sometimes be a drawback. About a third of the way through the book a character development moment happens, something that should have a big impact on how the reader views that particular character and it just doesn’t feel as momentous as it should because of the consistent build up to action-conflict-resolution that takes place almost every chapter.
Dllenahkh and Grace are both fascinating characters, completely distinct from each other and anyone else and both are necessary to keeping the plot moving. *mild spoiler alert* Their romance is understated throughout most of the story but as things move along it starts to feel inevitable. You can see it coming almost from the beginning of the book and it felt strange to me that one of them didn’t realize it until the last 20 pages or so.
Grace in particular is a wonderful narrator, she is funny, has the perfect tone for this story and is so realistic I felt as though I were reading a friend going through these experiences (your mileage may vary on that of course, depending on the kind of person you are and what your friends are like). There were several times I laughed aloud while reading due to hilarious turn of phrase or aside that she makes. The choice that Ms. Lord makes to write her that way will not please everyone, but I felt it contributed quite a bit to how much I enjoyed this book.
There was a lot of criticism about the fact that this book is not the typical space opera fare, with action set pieces and lots of drama and conflict. All of those things are accurate, but in my view not a detriment. This book is decidedly not about saving the world, or preventing a cataclysm. It’s about picking up the pieces afterwards, regular people dealing with the fallout. Some of them lost everything and others looking in from the outside of that trauma and trying to help. I found this book to be a great read, well written and the story is different from the standard fare and all the better for being so.