Review: The Best of all Possible Worlds / Author: Karen Lord / Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books / Release Date: Out Now
Taking her cue from the refrain of Voltaire's Candide, “All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds”, Karen Lord achieves a strange thing: a science-fiction romance with a scientist/civil servant as the main protagonist.
In the future, the home planet of the galaxy's ruling elite is decimated when their biosphere is poisoned. The prologue sets the scene. Dllenahkh is meditating when he is told news of a devastating event on Sadira, his home planet. Sent to the administrative planet, Cygnus Beta, Dllenhkah is tasked with finding 'wives' for the remaining Sadiri men from around the galaxy. Grace Delarua, a scientist who reluctantly accepts a secondment into the civil service, must facilitate the process of finding a suitable community for the Sadiri to settle. She also has the somewhat thankless task of seeking suitable 'wives' for the men – both female and androgynous.
A journey both actual and psychological ensues with some beautiful descriptions of travel and the indigenous populations the protagonists are acquainted with. However, this is a gentle approach to the bigger picture: the genocide of an entire planet. The focus is not on retribution, nor on finger-pointing. It is on the travelogue of Delarua and her leisurely-paced romance.
The exceptionally poetic prologue is delivered in impersonal present tense, a lush, sweeping introduction to a desert exile where water is a precious commodity. There is a promise of something approaching a work of literary art. However, after this introduction the narrative slips to Grace's first person past tense. While this does give a good indication of character, this literary technique leads to a somewhat frustrating reading experience.
Lord is a master at close observation especially when she focuses on different cultures, tribal clashes, science and gender. Stick with it. The Best of All Possible Worlds is an intelligent, slow-burning, love story with rewards along the way.