the Little Red Reviewer

The Best of All Possible Worlds, by Karen Lord

Posted on: September 30, 2014

best of all poss worldsThe Best of All Possible Worlds, by Karen Lord

published in 2013

where I got it: purchased new

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When I was a kid, I’d Ooh and Aah over the ladies dresses at the department store. My Mom very quickly figured out that I preferred the more simple styles, what she called “elegant”. No ruffles, no bows, none of that foofy stuff. It was explained to me that the more elegant dresses were more expensive because there was nothing (like a ruffle) to hide the flaws under, so a more skilled person had to make the dress. If there is a most perfectly, stylishly elegant dress in the universe, The Best of All Possible Worlds is the book version of that dress. Elegance, humor, and confidence, simplicity.  No where for the flaws to hide, and Lord writes with a confidence that says what you may see as a flaw is a design element, meant to draw your eye.

 

On Cyngus Beta, it’s fun to make fun of the Sadiri. After all, the Sadiri have a major superiority complex. Let me back up just a tiny bit.  Cygnus Beta is an open colony planet. Anyone can show up and ask for a homesteading. The citizens would never describe it as such, but it’s a last resort. You go to Cygnus Beta if you have nowhere else to go. You build a house, you start a farm, maybe the remnants of where ever you came from start a village, and you are left alone to live as you wish. It becomes your home, and you become fiercely protective of it, happy to punch anyone who calls Cygnus Beta “a last resort” right in the face.

 

It’s not that the Sadiri have a superiority complex, it’s that everyone thinks they do. The Sadiri are not loud, or brash, or at all openly emotional. Their body language is subtle, their communication is private. Because of their silence and what appears to be disinterest in others, many cultures think the Sadiri are snobs.  It’s too bad that’s such an easy mistake to make. After the destruction of their home planet, the Sadiri find themselves enroute to Cygnus Beta.

Through her junior position with a local government, Delarua finds herself attached to the new arrival of Sadiri. She starts working with Dllenahkh, and for reasons I won’t go into, a grand tour of a sorts of the settlements is planned.

 

Richly drawn and gorgeously written, The Best Of All Possible Worlds was an absolute joy to read, one of those books that I happily reread portions of because they put a huge smile on my face. I loved every word on every page. Delarua’s internal monologue is funny yet brutally honest.  She’s chatty, impulsive, completely non-judgemental, and often misses the forest for the trees. She’s the complete opposite of Dllenahkh, who is trying his best to communicate with what must be the wildest woman he’s ever met. Everyone in the novel is human, but it feels very much like a first contact story.  Told from Delarua’s point of view, this would be a completely different book if told completely 3rd person. In fact, I would love more than anything to read this same book, but from Dllenahkh’s point of view.  Because he expresses his emotions in a completely different way, I know he wants to say things, to tell Delarua things, but he’s unable to. So I want his internal monologue too!!

 

the middle section of the book has a travelogue feel to it, with the party travelling from one settlement to another, doing census work and looking for residents with ta-Sadiri genetics.  Basically, they are looking for possible brides. That might sound a little crass, but when your home planet has been destroyed, you’ll do whatever it takes to keep your culture and your genes alive, right?  Lord is taking the old “give us your women” trope, and completely subverting it into something poetic. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

 

Some readers may find the “travelogue” section a little slow, but I liked visiting the different areas of Cygnus Beta. It’s a true colony planet, with all sorts of different kinds of homesteads and villages. Some are completely low tech, some are matriarchal or patriarchal, some are refuse to be documented because they won’t give up their privacy. It’s a true case of “live and let live”.  This traveling section also offers many opportunities for Delarua to be  completely blind to what’s going on around her, which is kinda funny later.  Not her fault, she simply doesn’t know what to look for, and Dllenahkh simply doesn’t know how to use words or body language that she’ll understand.  The growth of their relationship is, in a word, adorable.

 

There’s obviously a lot of plot points and characters, and decisions and ramifications that I haven’t touched on. The middle portion of the book, where everyone is traveling, serves as a backdrop for everything else that happens. And that, my friends, would be spoilers.

 

In the long term, I can see this book becoming a comfort read. you know, the ones you go back to again and again, because just by reading them, you feel better about the universe?  Yeah, that.

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The Best of All Possible Worlds is a novel of language, of growing up, of saying goodbye, of saying hello, and realizing that language is far more than just words. I highly recommend it.

10 Responses to "The Best of All Possible Worlds, by Karen Lord"

I’m glad you liked it, as I really dug it. I wrote a review of it a while ago (http://foesofreality.com/review-the-best-of-all-possible-worlds/, I know it says 2/14, but it’s a repost) and I’ve been recommending it ever since. It’s definitely a smile on your face book. I still haven’t read her other work, darn it!

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same here, that this is the only Lord I’ve read. you bet your ass I want to read more of her work.

Wish I’d read your review before I written mine, so I could have plagarized nearly everything you said.😉. It is terrible that I was nervous to mention “there’s romance!” in my review? I didn’t want prospective readers to think Best of All Possible Worlds was a romance before it was anything else because it’s a whole bunch of stuff, and a romance.

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Interesting that you pick up on the language and ‘gorgeous’ writing so strongly, because I think you and I have tastes that overlap more often than not but I really had issues with Grace’s language here. I can see it being good ventriloquism on Lord’s part, but it really didn’t work for me as a reader. There’s a fine line between ‘unaffected’ and ‘unedited first draft’, and too much of this felt like the latter.

Thought-provoking stuff going on in this book, certainly, but the writing? Not a fan, sadly (I really enjoyed her first book). And if we’re all sharing our links I’ll throw mine up here as well😉 http://fightstart.blogspot.jp/2013/12/the-best-of-all-possible-worlds.html

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I can’t argue about the travelogue aspect – I think in my review I said one thing I wanted was more. Obviously, I disagree about the voice (I found it delightful), which highlights the risk I think Lord was taking: that writing in a purposefully casual voice might work for some readers, but if it doesn’t hit the right tone, it might come off badly to others.

I suspect that the fact that the voice worked for me allowed me to invest more in the characters, and enjoy the romance, where my guess (???) is that for you, not enjoying the voice left you perceiving the telegraphing as contrived, rather than something to anticipate.

As far as the writing itself, I remember it as (maybe connected to the voice) being nothing extraordinary – that’s not a bad thing, as I felt it was fitted to the tone of the book. I haven’t read Lord’s other work, so I can’t comment on that.

Andrea, when you said gorgeously written, what exactly were you thinking about?

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Kamo, Steven hit the nail right on the head, calling Grace Delarua’s voice “purposefully casual”. because yeah, her voice is completely casual, and I can see how that would be a turn off to a lot of readers. I have a huge weakness for 1st person POV, and I enjoy casual character voices. Her voice does sound very young, but I felt it fit her personality: impulsive and oblivious. I felt like I was having a conversation with her, like we were gossiping about boys while drinking, like we were just hanging out. totally a girl thing.😉

Steven – gorgeously written: the best way I can describe this is that reading this book felt like I was sitting outside on a beautiful spring day, the flowers are just breaking into bloom, there is a nice breeze. It felt like a long winter was over.

For both of you, it will be interesting to see how The Galaxy Game (comes out in January, i think?) reads, since it follows Rafi’s storyline. Don’t know if it’ll be told from his POV of not, but now I really, really want to see what Lord does w/different character voices.

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Ah, that makes sense – I remember it as being very transportive, I think partially due to the first person. The risk of a first person narrator is that they have to carry the whole thing: if you enjoy that voice, you’re going to like the book – if you don’t, it’s pretty much over. I’ve set first person books aside because I didn’t like the voice.

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“if you enjoy that voice, you’re going to like the book – if you don’t, it’s pretty much over.”

THIS.

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Pretty much over, yep, but not entirely; there was still some interesting stuff going on here. The saving, er, grace is that Grace is very likable, which made me slightly more forgiving than I might have been of a less sympathetic protagonist. It’s a fair point about how one decision not working can infecting everything else though. I can’t really fault Lord’s execution; she certainly commits to Grace’s voice. It all makes sense from characterization point of view, it just didn’t work from a readable prose perspective, for me.

That said, if neither of you have read Redemption in Indigo, then I can happily recommend that to you without reservation. It’s one of the most pleasant books I’ve read, which sounds like faint praise but being nice without being bland is a pretty difficult trick to pull off and she absolutely nails it. (Possibly another reason I was underwhelmed by this.) As you say, Red, it’ll be very interesting to see what The Galaxy Game is like.

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[…] Red Reviewer writes about Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds (Del Rey 2013). “is a novel of […]

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This looks amazing! Based on your description, it sounds like something similar to Ursula LeGuin’s Hainish books…

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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