Rameau's note: This review was originally posted on Love in the Margins.
Sometimes late is better than never, right? I saw a lot of positive buzz around The Best of All Possible Worlds when it was published last year, but I didn't get around reading it until now. I was expecting more science and less romance, but I'm not complaining.
What would happen if nearly all the women were gone? That's the premise of this book partly based on articles written about fishers who lost their wives and families in the 2004 tsunami.
In a galaxy where four different but distantly related humanoid races have learned to coexist, one loses its homeworld. The Sadiri have made themselves a sort of ruling class and now have to rely to others for their survival. Their new, temporary home planet isn't enough to sustain the remains of their gender imbalanced race, and the excess of males are sent to Cygnys Beta, a frontier planet for settlers of all racers. It's a melting pot and the characters' appearances reflect that; they're all "various shades of brown".
Grace Delarua is a local biotechnian and a linguistic genius tasked with helping the Sadiri to adjust and preserve whatever the culture they may. This includes working closely with the Sadiri representative, Dllenahkh, and traveling around the planet visiting long forgotten Sadiri outposts.
While Dllenahkh is actively seeking for a wife, Delarua is the commitment phobic, with a good reason as the reader will find out—trigger warning for domestic abuse. Where he is cool and reserved, she is impulsive and giggly. Somehow they mesh.
It was fun watching them react to different variations of the Sadiri culture and to each other. Most refreshing part might have been to read a romance where a simple handholding became a sign of a deep devotion. Their relationship takes over a year (and three hundred pages) to develop.
The words "there aren't enough wives" come up repeatedly, and it's clearly a very hetero-normative set up. There isn't any mention of other genders or sexualities among the Sadiri, even though the exploration team does include a gender neutral character, Lian. Lord vaguely implies to how Sadiri families are adopted but that doesn't quite stand out in the barrage of absent wives.
I fell in love with the short third person voice that starts the book, so I felt a bit cheated when I found out that the rest of the story is narrated in Delarua's first person voice. I grew to like it but the writing didn't quite flow well enough to be addictive.
I hesitate to label The Best of All Possible Worlds as science fiction because it isn't bogged down by the technical details I've come to expect from the genre. Rather than marvelling at the advanced technology, Lord focuses on the social sciences and exploring how societies might develop together and apart, before and after a catastrophe.
Speculative fiction might be a more accurate description of this book, but that's not quite accurate either because it's the relationship between Delarua and Dllenahkh that holds everything together. So, it's a romance that happens in space.
Final Assessment: If you're looking for a slow build romance with explicit handholding on a foreign planet in the aftermath of a societal and environmental catastrophe, this is definitely a book for you. B