The Best of All Possible Worlds: Del Rey; February 2013; 306 pages; book design by Victoria Wong. Keren Lord's debut novel, Redemption in Indigo, was published in 2010 and won the Frank Collymore Literary Prize in Barbados. The Best of All Possible Worlds defeated 23 Years on Fire by Joel Shepherd to get into the second round.
In The Best of All Possible Worlds, the first event is a Sadirian genocide. The Sadirians are an introspective people whose males go off-world on meditation retreats. The women rarely go off world. While Dllenahkh was off-world on a meditation, he learned that his home world had been poisoned, killing most of the females.
The people responsible for the vicious murders are the taSadiri or Ainya people, who are originally from the Sadirian home world. They do not practice the meditation discipline and had left the home planet, or possibly were ousted.
Sadirian Counsellor Dllenahkh travels to the planet Cyrus Beta. Dllenahkh is on a mission to find mates for the planet-wide multitude of males who lost their wives. If they cannot secure mates with similar Sadiri genetic heritage, their race might become extinct.
Biotechnician Delarua of Cyrus Beta has been demoted to Civil Service liaison, which mostly involves working with Counsellor Dllenahkh and the Sadiri people. Delarua is not happy to relinquish her biotechnician job to the famous Dr. Freyda Mar, although a friendship between them is easily established.
Delarua travels with Dr. Mar and Dllenahkh in the province. During the hours of driving time, Dr. Mar likes to sing loudly. One day, Dllenahkh shows up with Dr. Lanuri and suggests Lanuri and Mar take one car, and Dllenahkh and Delarua take another. Delarua thought the move was to separate Dllenahkh from Dr. Mar's singing. The actual purpose was to put the other two together. Dllenahkh believed they’d make a good match since Mar and Lanuri had similar personalities and Dr. Mar had Sadiri heritage. And he was right.
Soon, Delarua and Dllenahkh set out with a mission team on a year-long mission to travel around the planet, looking for genetic matches for the Sadirian males. Other team members include Dr. Qeturah Daniyel, who does the lab work and Sadirian Jorel who seems bent on finding a mate. Jorel asks Delarua if Lian is a female. Delarua is taken aback saying it's not polite to ask the gender of someone who claims to be gender-neutral, and "Lian has decided to live without reference to gender."
The team comes to a fishing settlement and discovers Sadirian genetic matches. When their work is done and it's time to leave for the next settlement, a boat shows up with a dead fisherman. This settlement has quarreled with another settlement over fishing boundaries. The community leaders ask the team to stay out of their fight, but the team seems to have other ideas.
The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi: A Burton & Swineburne book: Pyr; July 2013; 438 pages; cover illustration, John Sullivan; cover design by Jacqueline Nasso Cooke. Mark Hodder is the author of A Red Sun Also Rises and the Burton & Swinburne books, which also include The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, and Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon. The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi won a decision over Mage's Blood by David Hair to get into the second round.
The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi begins on a British dirigible, the HMA Orpheus, in 1859. The feverish Captain Burton is recovering from malaria, which he contracted while on the expedition in Africa looking for the source of the Nile. Burton enjoys drinking Saltzmann's tincture that has cocaine as a major ingredient because it seems to help him function. Sister Raghavendra, Burton's nurse and fellow explorer, says the Captain's misconceptions stem from the malaria medication, and he'll be better soon.
Burton soon hears chanting and decides to investigate. In a distant cabin Burton sees Mr. Oliphant, Lord Elgin's secretary, standing in the center of a pentagram drawn on the floor, chanting over a kneeling and dazed Stroyan – Burton's friend. Oliphant then slits Stroyan's throat. The walls are covered with symbols and numbers. Oliphant declares that Burton can't stop him now because the master has been summoned. Burton whips out the sword from his walking stick and attacks Oliphant, eventually knocking him out. Fortunately, others soon arrive to help Burton. Oliphant is shackled and stowed in a cabin to await further questioning when he gains consciousness.
Around this time the telegraph develops problems. It is disconnected but still reveals a disjointed message with English words and "nonsensical balderdash," which no one understands. Also, strange lights are in the sky, like an aurora borealis.
Meanwhile the dirigible lands in Vienna to pick up Lord Stanley, Lord Elgin and Prince Albert, widower of Queen Victoria.
Lord Elgin reveals info about his secretary, Mr. Oliphant, to Burton. Oliphant had become overly involved with a book, which stated that there are multiple levels of existence that can be seen by using mind-altering drugs. Burton replies, "Utter claptrap!"
The airship lands at London's Royal Navy Air Service Station. Prince Albert, Lord Elgin, and Lord Stanley climb into a six-wheeled armor-plated carriage pulled by two steam horses. Captain Burton, Sister Raghavendra, and Royal Geographical Society (RGS) member Sir Roderick Murchinson depart in another growler, a steam-horse conveyance. Burton is disgusted with the smell in the air but learns that the sewage system is being revamped and should smell better in a couple months.
On the way to the RGS welcome-back-reception, Murchinson discusses the Society and its connection to communicating with the dead and the connection to the Afterlife. Sister Raghavendra is skeptical but open to the ideas while Burton believes the concepts are absurd. Murchinson says that Burton is in the minority, and even the Prince backs the RGS.
After the reception and after downing more Saltzmann's tincture, Burton walks home alone under the strange aurora borealis lights. He takes a shortcut through some seedy part of town. Burton gets accosted by a man who accuses Burton of being part of the assassination of Queen Victoria some 20 years earlier. But once discovering that it would be impossible, due to Burton's age, the man who calls himself Macallister Fogg takes off.
The next day, Burton does his best to find Fogg to no avail. From a paperboy, who is also a Whisperer who gathers information, Burton finds out that "Macallister Fogg" is the name of a fictional detective in a periodical. Burton will have to try a different path to find the elusive man.
The Battle: We have The Best of all Possible Worlds, a galaxy-spanning science fiction epic, battle a dark, alternate-history, steampunk novel The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi.
The Best of all Possible Worlds has us follow the Sadirian Dllenahkh and the Cygnian Delarua. In the first 25 pages, I wrongly assumed Delarua was male. The first person narrative didn't give me a clue. In the second 25 pages more details arose as to Delarua's gender as well as to the non-importance of gender identity with the Cygnians. This fact now seems important and a bit amusing since the Sadiri males are looking for Cygnian females with Sadiri genetic heritage. Looking for females in a sometimes gender-neutral society might prove difficult.
Delarua has genetic bloodlines to the Ntshune, who have the ability to make people laugh, "giving people the giggles," which I find to be a unique gift. Dllenahkh has some ability to be genetic matchmaker, which he demonstrates by pushing Dr. Mar together with Dr. Lanuri.
A simple plot gets more interesting as details show up within the story. I'm enjoying the interaction between the characters. The reader learns at the same time the characters do. I felt surprise yet amused when I found out the true sex of Delarua.
In the earlier pages of The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi, the concept of multiple levels of existence is proposed. When Burton talks with the RGS about the Afterlife, the thought arises about how these two ideas might be connected.
When Burton is accosted by "Macallister Fogg," another mystery pops up, and I’m curious to learn more about this fake character. I think he might be Sherlock Holmes, but that’s just a wild guess.
After Burton arrives in London, he grabs life by the horns and takes no flack, even when accosted at gunpoint. I like Burton and root for him as he tries to fit into civilian life after his African expedition.
Sometimes alternate reality novels stick in historical characters, which I like when they are major or minor characters in the story but not when they enter the story just as tidbits of fact. In The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi, Sir Murchinson brought up famous civil engineer Bazalgette who oversaw the rebuilding of London's sewage system. We'll probably not hear about him again.
Both stories continue to evolve and go in directions that capture my attention, with good writing and bizarre worlds. Neither story provided more information about the Caretaker in The Best of All Possible Worlds or Swineburne in The Secret of Abdul El Yezdi. I’m sure that details will come in later chapters.
After reading 50 pages of each, I (Jackie) like both novels, however, only one of these books can continue in Battle of the Books. I choose to continue reading about people on another planet instead of people in an alternate reality.
THE WINNER: The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord
The Best of All Possible Worlds advances to the semi-finals round to take on Electricity & Other Dreams by Micah Dean Hicks.
To see the whole bracket, click here.