Published January 6th, 2015 by Del Rey*
The Galaxy Game did not live up to the expectations raised by my first Karen Lord book, The Best of All Possible Worlds. While the latter encompassed a patchwork of cultures and peoples that together revealed a complex and diverse planetary society, the composition of the former felt scattered, inconsistent, and incomplete. I loved The Best of All Possible Worlds, the first in this loosely connected series (the first features the aunt of the main character in The Galaxy Game), and really could not wait to read this one.
Overall, it was disjointed and confusing. The main character, Rafi, is a young man, about fourteen,with empathic/telepathic abilities. His abilities bring him to the dangerous attention of the government on a world that disapproves of such abilities. The plot takes him from his school to his aunt’s home and on to two other planets. His friend joins him for part of his journey, navigating the tricky waters of a foreign society.
The universe, hinted at in the first book, is expanded in this one – but never cohesively. Each of the three planets that make up the setting of this book had distinct characteristics but were difficult to remember. Much of the action occurs on the second planet, home to a people of complex society with social and financial debt and credit systems and strict relationship and networking customs and rules. The society itself was never fully brought to life, which made it difficult to understand. Only a few barely sketched-in characters give any idea of how natives behave, think, and speak.
On this planet, Rafi moves astonishingly quickly up the ranks of social creditors, gaining powerful patrons and connecting with other important people. The only explanation for his abrupt advance in this society is that he begins with the right connections, and somehow inexplicably manages to land on his feet in every interaction. At one point, the main narrator realizes Rafi has no need for him anymore, that the balance of their relationship has changed, and that he is losing status in comparison.
The most important cultural aspect of this world is the Galaxy Game. I have no idea what that is, actually, except that they climb walls and gravity changes. Is it like the labyrinth (the version from the 80s movie, not the classical version), where up becomes down and the walls are just more floors? Or is it actually a wall? Do the angles change? All I know after having read this book is that it takes special abilities to play on a team, and there are specific positions. And Rafi, like Harry Potter, has innate abilities that make him The Most Special of all players.
The other planets are barely described at all, and while not precisely interchangeable, added very little to the story. Had they been further developed, they would have provided a more comprehensive picture of a universe inhabited by many different kinds of people. The universe, and thus the story, would have been more interesting.
The narration was by far the most confusing. Several (too many, in my humble opinion) third-person narrators described events in different parts of the galaxy. This would have added interest to universal politics, but the big picture was never explained. Our hero, Rafi, is one of these third-person narrators (or at least that’s how it seemed to me, since the plot mostly followed his decisions and actions), but there is a random first-person narrator. The friend of the hero, he adds a different perspective – but it was really difficult to reconcile the importance of a first-person narrator with the importance of the main character, who are different people. What is the point of the secondary character narrating in the first person? It is never made clear.
Also narrating is a young woman distressed by her own restlessness and her search for a meaningful relationship in a community that communicates telepathically as the norm. In one passage, her yearning is described as based on observing the close link between Rafi’s aunt and uncle. When she meets Rafi, her yearning becomes a crush, even though he is five years younger than she (she’s nineteen, he’s fourteen). Yet, throughout the novel, this relationship never develops, and her own storyline never develops. Why add this character? What value does she add to the plot, the characters, the story? I couldn’t see it.
Ultimately, this novel felt scattered, unfinished, and confusing. There was too much going on that wasn’t fully explained or even connected. I struggled through this book, and when I finally closed it, I was left with a feeling of relief that I had finally finished it.
*Advance review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.
This may seem obvious…
I recommend this series all the time because it’s one of my favorites. If you like books that mix space opera with comedy of manners, or you love the complexity of the society based on social as well as financial credit/debit systems, you’ll like this one. It also features a young teenager. NB: You might want to start with the earlier books in the series