This review is based on an eARC (Advance Reading Copy) provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The Blue, Beautiful World will be released on August 29, 2023.
After enjoying Redemption in Indigo immensely back in 2020, I’ve had Karen Lord on the list of authors to revisit for a few years. I bought a copy of The Best of All Possible Worlds, but when I saw she was coming out with a new first contact novel, I decided to rearrange my TBR to read The Blue, Beautiful World.
The Blue, Beautiful World is set in the same universe as The Best of All Possible Worlds and The Galaxy Game, but it’s designed to be read as a standalone, and I had no trouble following the story without having read the other two. It’s a bifurcated novel, feeling something like a book and its prequel—or a book and its sequel—being combined into a single work. The first half features a pop star working with political and cultural leaders to build the leadership structures that Earth will need when the extraterrestrials he knows exist finally make themselves known, and the second skips decades forward to watch those seeds sprout, following students in his program dealing with the realities of first contact.
In theory, I really like the move of splitting the story in that way, getting to see both the plans and the outcomes without compressing the story into an unreasonably small timeline. But in execution, I felt the second half just wasn’t fleshed out in the same way as the opening portion. The first half zooms in on a hyper-competent but out-of-the-loop manager, trying to gather all the necessary resources and calm her famous employer as he spreads himself far too thin, but without being privy to the details of why his work matters so much. It’s a fascinating opening that develops a quality side character and interprets the lead’s challenges through her eyes, all the while putting so many balls in the air that the reader can’t help but wonder where they’ll all land.
The second half, on the other hand, feels too much like checking boxes—especially in contrast with such an excellent opening. The primary perspective switches from the manager to a student in what is now a long-standing leadership program, meeting other future leaders from around the globe and working through a first contact assignment that the reader understands is very much the real thing, presented in the guise of fiction. And the new perspective character is plenty interesting, but he’s also entirely out of the loop, and by the time everything becomes real, the problems barely have time to be introduced before they’re resolved. The lead’s long-term internal struggles are fought almost entirely off-page, squeezed into the decades between the times of the two perspective characters, and a side quest that does become a major subplot feels too decontextualized to make a big impact. The story hits every plot point needed to give a satisfying resolution to the questions raised in the first half, but they simply don’t have enough room to breathe, robbing some of their emotional resonance.
Overall, there is still a lot to like about The Blue, Beautiful World. The first half is excellent, and if the ideas it raises don’t get quite enough breathing room as the story progresses, they still give the story enough structure to end on a satisfying note. Unfortunately, not having yet read The Best of All Possible Worlds, I can’t make a firm recommendation on whether to jump in with the new release or circle back to the first book set in this universe. But I can say that Karen Lord has set up a compelling world that I plan to spend more time reading.
Recommended if you like: spending more time on the prep work than the first contact.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s Published in 2023, in a Coastal Setting, and is hard mode for POC Author and Mundane Jobs. And though it can be read on its own, it probably counts as a Sequel as well.
Overall rating: 15 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads.