The Best of All Possible Worlds
Del Rey / February 12, 2013 / $25.00 print, $12.99 digital
A proud and aloof alien society finds their homeland destroyed, and now must reach out to the rest of the galaxy for aid and understanding. The survivors strive to preserve their cherished way of life, but learn they may only be able to protect it by changing it forever. And an alien man and a very human woman work together to create the destiny of this vanishing race...and find their own destinies in each other.
The Best of All Possible Worlds is the second novel by award-winning author Karen Lord. It’s science fiction, with the feel of one of Ursula K. LeGuin’s Hainish novels about a society of humans spread across a number of different planets, each with their own unique cultures and levels of paranormal ability. The core of the story is the relationship between Grace Delarua, a government liaison to refugees from the destroyed planet Sadira, and Dllenahkh, the chief representative for that group. Dllenahkh has very strong psychic abilities, and Grace is beginning to discover her own talents in this area.
For the entire story, Grace and Dllenahkh have an unusually harmonious working relationship and consider each other friends, but at the same time, both are restraining much more romantic and physical desires. Their interaction is complicated by the fact that most of the surviving Sadiri are male, and thus are seeking wives on Grace’s planet. Naturally, the romance eventually emerges, amid complications arising from their differing cultures. If you like sweet friends-to-lovers romances, this is a wonderful and rewarding example.
But the thing I most appreciated about The Best of All Possible Worlds was the outside relationships both characters formed and maintained throughout the story. Neither character is an island. During the course of the novel, they build and maintain strong connections that are richly realistic. In particular, I loved that Grace had so many female friends. First, there’s her longtime BFF.
I’ve mentioned my friend Gilda before. I love her dearly, but I swear she’s a bad influence on just about everyone. I suspect that three out of her six children aren’t her husband’s and that he knows it but doesn’t care. He’s so under her thumb, she must have had more than one Zhinuvian ancestor. She has three main groups she hangs out with, and she tries to annoy each one. She bores her housewives group with her science research, she makes her drinking buddies miserable with her tales of domesticity, and she scandalizes her coworkers (that’s me) with her lurid sexcapades.
Next, Grace meets a famous scientist, of whom she’s a bit in awe, but they end up being friends over talk of their careers and, in a bit of foreshadowing, their stalled love lives.
The next journey was for more sober talk. She said she’d been engaged, but there’d been a mutual decision not to marry after her academic career took off, leaving her tied to the city and her fiancé still wanting the life of a homesteader. I said I’d been engaged too and also broke it off by mutual agreement, though my career was nowhere as illustrious as hers. “You still have time,” she said generously.
At first I thought she was talking about my career, and I was flattered, but then I realized she meant time to have a family, and I felt a little less flattered. “Well, what about you? Have you considered early retirement and going back to be a housewife on a homestead?”
Then there’s Grace’s superior officer in her new mission, Dr. Daniyel, who represents an older generation.
“Aggregated data,” she said, her voice suddenly alert and firm. “We don’t do individual scans. This is an anthropological analysis, not a medical report.”
“Yes, ma’am. I am familiar with the bioethics section of the Science Code,” I answered calmly.
She smiled once more, not offended at being humored. “It’s going to be a long mission. Feel free to call me Qeturah when off duty.”“I’m Grace,” I responded. “But everyone calls me Delarua regardless.”
Grace’s first-person narration is interspersed with smaller sections from Dllenahkh’s point of view. His sections offer teasing hints of his feelings towards Grace, and give a deeper view inside his personality.
If you’re not usually a science fiction reader, but do like slow-building romance, you should give The Best of All Possible Worlds a try.
Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. Her World War One-set Spice Brief is titled “Under Her Uniform” and is a tie-in to her novel The Moonlight Mistress. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.