Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Review: Cards of Grief

Book Cover: Cards of Grief by Jane Yolen
Originally published 1984; republished 2012 by Open Road Media
Source: borrowed from the library

Jane Yolen's award-winning story about an alien civilization forever changed by the incursion of human social scientists and a mysterious ancient prophecy

The year is 2132 when members of the Anthropologist's Guild set down on the planet Henderson's IV, or L'Lal'lor as it is known to the native population. Charged with the nonintrusive study of alien cultures, the crew discovers a society containing no love or laughter. It is, instead, centered around death—a world of aristocratic and common folk in which grieving is an art and the cornerstone of life. But the alien civilization stands on the brink of astonishing change, heralded by the discovery of Linni, the Gray Wanderer, a young woman from the countryside whose arrival has been foretold for centuries. And for Anthropologist First Class Aaron Spenser, L'Lal'lor is a place of destructive temptations, seducing him with its mysterious, sad beauty, and leading him into an unthinkable criminal act.

Told from the shifting viewpoints of characters both alien and human, and through records of local lore and transcripts of court martial proceedings, Cards of Grief is a thoughtful, lyrical, and spellbinding tale of first contact. It is a true masterwork of world building from Jane Yolen, a premier crafter of speculative fiction and fantasy.

My Thoughts

Outstanding science fiction novel by one of my favorite authors. While browsing the online catalog at my local library, I noticed that several of Jane Yolen's books had recently been republished in electronic form by Open Road Media, so I borrowed Cards of Grief thinking that it would be a “nice” read. I mean after all—this science fiction novel was awarded the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. Yeah—I wasn't so sure about a cross-over SF/F novel. I tend to like the ones that are clearly Science Fiction or clearly Fantasy.

Wow! My expectations were greatly exceeded. First of all, I would never classify this novel as Fantasy. It's pure and simple a “first contact” science fiction novel. Well, OK. I'll stick with “pure” since the story is anything but “simple”. It was amazing. Complex enough to fully engage me, but clearly and straight-forwardly told.

I could burble along for hours raving about how good I thought the book was, but you should simply pick up a copy for yourself. If it's not in your local library's catalog, it is available through the Kindle Unlimited program. And if you don't have a KU subscription, buy it—at $1.99, it's a bargain. Read the blurb above if you're curious about the plot. Or just trust me—it's good.


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