The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord, Review: Captivating

Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds is a stunning science-fiction epic that is also a beautifully wrought, deeply moving love story. Read on for our full review.

The Best of All Possible Worlds Synopsis

The Best of All Possible Worlds - Karen Lord

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.

(Del Rey, 2013)

Genre: Literature, Sci-Fi-Fantasy, Romance, Action-Adventure

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The was my first outing with author Karen Lord so when I embarked on her latest novel The Best of All Possible Worlds I really did not know what to expect. The synopsis had struck me as something just that little bit different from the average romance and the epic nature to the storyline held much promise – I was not disappointed.

Firstly, The Best of All Possible Worlds is a novel that is difficult to categorise into any particular fiction genre. On one level it almost like a documentary – an anthropological study of the inhabitants of the planet Cygnus Beta, a melting pot of races from the vast fictional universe imagined by Karen Lord.

Cygnus Beta isn’t a rich colony by any means, but we understand fleeing disaster and war and disease and struggling to find a place where you’re wanted. A lot of people act like misfortune is contagious. They don’t want to be exposed to it for too long. They’ll take you in and make all the right gestures and noises, but when the months wear on and you’re still in their house or their town or their world, the welcome starts to wear a bit thin. So we understood, and maybe we were making a point too. There isn’t a group on Cygnus Beta who can’t trace their family back to some world-shattering event. Landless, kinless, unwanted — theoretically, the Sadiri would fit right in.

Our documentary host, if you like, is the feisty and very likeable female narrator Delarua.

Fortunately for my curiosity, I was in a position to find out about them. I’m a second assistant to the chief biotechnician of Tlaxce Province, which means that I get to travel a lot because it’s the biggest province, and it’s also the province with the largest number of new homesteads. Sadiri homesteads galore, in other words. Plus, and keep this one quiet, please, I’m kind of a language nut. Old languages, new languages, made-up languages — whatever, that’s my hobby. I already had a smattering of Sadiri, so it was inevitable that I would get stuck with the duty of liaison for the public health and agriculture departments.

Unusual romantic plotline

In this capacity, Delarua meets Sadiri leader Dllenahkh. And so begins one of the more unusual and captivating romantic plot lines I have read. Dllenahkh is a stoic, silent and scientific type and Delarua puts other people’s wants and desires before her own. Divided by duty, propriety and a chasm of cultural differences, Karen Lord slowly fans the embers between her lead characters.

“Dark you are, and golden-eyed,” Dllenahkh said quietly.

“My eyes are brown,” I replied, puzzled to hear a Sadiri say something so nonsensical.

“I understand that on Terra gold is considered a rare and precious metal. To be golden is to be special, cherished.” He looked at me. “To me, your eyes are golden, because they have perceived who we truly are.”

I said nothing. I opened my mouth, failed to breathe, and lowered my eyes from that intense gaze. It hurt too much, like bright sun on tender skin, bright and searing with the beauty of both what had been lost and what remained.

I enjoyed the tantalisingly slow and subtle progression of their romance as well as the scientific and philosophical bent to the discussions throughout the novel. Lord also provides a diverse ensemble cast of characters from different cultures, perspectives and life experiences that kept me wanting to know more.

This book did, however, exhibit some weaknesses for me. Lord writes in somewhat rambling prose, and it took me a chapter or two to get accustomed to her style, and on occasion, I did get a little confused as to which character was speaking. I also think that one or two episodes in the story (different cultures the travelling party studied) could have been left out entirely as they added little value when all was said and done.

Story themes

The perils of telepathy, the merits of different belief systems, time and space travel, and the meaning of life are just some of the many interesting macro subjects explored by Karen Lord in The Best of All Possible Worlds.

Some societies on Cygnus Beta are what we would consider very progressive and liberal, and others are quite the opposite.

I assume the micro-story, that of Delarua and Dllenahkh was intended to project the more epic and universal story of races and cultures. While the clever parallels were evident, I think the epic storyline took second place to the story of these two individuals. Or perhaps, this is the message that Karen Lord was actually seeking to convey – that at the heart of any great universal movement lies the actions of individuals?

While I do not think this novel succeeds at the macro level sufficiently for it to become a classic, it is certainly intriguing and unusual enough to be remembered.

If you are looking for something a little different and are in the mood for a delicious thinker’s romance, then I highly recommend The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord.

BOOK RATING: The Story  4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5  —  Overall 4.25

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About the Author, Karen Lord

Karen Lord has been a physics teacher, a diplomat, a part-time soldier and an academic at various times and in various countries. She is now a writer and research consultant in Barbados. Her debut novel Redemption in Indigo won the 2008 Frank Collymore Literary Award, the 2011 William L. Crawford Award and the 2011 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature, and was nominated for the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. You can visit Karen Lord’s website or connect with her on Twitter.

* My receiving this title free did not affect my ability to express my honest opinions in this book review.