The Best of All Possible Worlds is the story of a brutally wiped out race who comes to a melting pot of a planet where people from different races have mixed and where there are many cultures and traditions, some inherited and some adopted. I had enjoyed a lot Karen Lord’s debut novel, Redemption in Indigo, and The Best of All Possible Worlds came highly recommended. Though the narrative structure was different from what I expected, it is a sci-fi novel filled with great characters and both thoughtful and funny moments that make it one of the best quest for happiness stories I ever read.
The Sadiri have been all but wiped out from the galaxy by a sudden attack. Nonetheless, they try to rebuild their race and their society. Some of them arrive on Cygnus Beta, a melting pot of a planet, in search of some communities who would retain enough of the Sadiri genetical traits and of their customs to marry and to have children. There, they meet a civil servant, Grace Delarua. Together, they will visit the different communities of the planet.
The narrative structure of The Best of All Possible Worlds is different in the sense that each chapter is more or less a self-contained story happening within one of the communities of Cygnus Beta. But they are all linked by the exploring party visiting those communities and the relationships that form between the members.
Lord chose a first-person narrator, Grace, and what a delightful first-person narrator she is! A woman close to middle age, full of humor but with her own weaknesses too, her voice rang incredibly true. To me, Grace carried the novel. I could have lost my interest because of the different narrative structure, but Grace kept me engaged with it.
The other characters are all well-rounded, even the more restrained of them, and it doesn’t prevent the reader from becoming invested in them. Lord also has to be praised for offering a wide range of relationships, from friendship to romantic and platonic love to the complexity of family ties, and she doesn’t shirk from abusive relationships either.
Lord offers an incredible variety of being oneself and of human relationships, and in turn, this offers a mirror to our humanity and our own relationships.
But the novel doesn’t limit itself to a collection of situations and a range of relationships. As the title indicates, it is a quest for happiness and of one’s place in the world. The title is a quote from Leibniz, an 18th-century German philosopher.
The once all-powerful Sadiri are looking to preserve their culture and genetic traits, but on Cygnus Beta, they will have to compromise. This is where the best of all possible worlds may end up being, in this melting pot encountering others who just have another take on life. Each can learn from the other.
As another reviewer put it, this is the West Indies, Lord’s home, a melting pot of a land with Afro Caribbean, White Caribbean, Asian Caribbean and Indo Caribbean people.
The Best of All Possible Worlds ends up being a novel that runs on parallel lines: you could read it as just a character-driven story in a quest for their place in the world and happiness, but you could also read it as a metaphor celebrating multiculturalism, peace, and diversity. The characters travel on Cygnus Beta, but they also travel within their own selves. They encounter otherness, but sometimes the otherness is theirs. There’s both microcosm (at the characters level) and macrocosm (at the planetary level), both driving to the realization that the best of all possible worlds is right there in the mixing and encountering and sharing.
The Best of All Possible World is funny, thoughtful, and it will be the perfect fit for anyone tired of the doom and gloom of our world who would wish for a bit of human kindness in all its forms.
Karen Lord, The Best of All Possible Worlds, Jo Fletcher Books, 2014.
C. has been reading science-fiction and fantasy for about 30 years and tries to have a life in between books, though it’s often less interesting than fictional worlds. You can find more science-fiction and fantasy books reviews by C. on http://www.themiddleshelf.org or on Twitter: @themiddleshelf1