Book Description from Goodreads:

For years, Rafi Delarua saw his family suffer under his father’s unethical use of psionic power. Now the government has Rafi under close watch, but, hating their crude attempts to analyse his brain, he escapes to the planet Punartam, where his abilities are the norm, not the exception. Punartam is also the centre for his favourite sport, wallrunning – and thanks to his best friend, he has found a way to train with the elite. But Rafi soon realises he’s playing quite a different game, for the galaxy is changing; unrest is spreading and the Zhinuvian cartels are plotting, making the stars a far more dangerous place to aim. There may yet be one solution – involving interstellar travel, galactic power and the love of a beautiful game.

The Galaxy Game is supposed to be a standalone book set after Karen Lord’s 2013 novel The Best of All Possible Worlds, a nominee for the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and winner of the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. After reading both novels, I do not believe The Galaxy Game actually stands alone very well since it does reference past characters and events. Even though I’d read the previous book first, I found it difficult to keep track of some of the different characters and their past storylines after not having read it for a couple of years—so I would definitely not recommend reading this before The Best of All Possible Worlds (even aside from the fact that I much preferred the earlier novel).

The Galaxy Game was a 2015 book release I was particularly excited about because I very much enjoyed The Best of All Possible Worlds, which was simultaneously entertaining and thoughtful. There was never a dull moment, and Grace Delarua was a delightful first person narrator. Unfortunately, I didn’t think The Galaxy Game was nearly as compelling or well executed. It was a very disjointed novel with too many viewpoints for its length, and while it was not terrible and was occasionally interesting, it failed to remain engaging throughout.

First, the good parts: like the previous book, the novel’s strengths include its myths and cultures. The prologue includes the story of the creation of the First Four worlds and their inhabitants, and this part kept me riveted even though I’d read about it in the first book. Once this short section was over, it didn’t maintain my interest until Rafi arrived on the planet Punartum and began learning about this culture. There was a lot of telling in these sections as Rafi had much explained to him about this new place; however, it was still fascinating to read about this matriarchal society in which social credit and connections were vital. I also thought the author did an excellent job portraying the complexity of Punartum’s customs. While I never felt their culture was shown in a negative light, its disadvantages and sometimes negative impact on others did not go unremarked upon. These people could seem cold since kindness could come across as calculating and necessitating a favor in return, and those from outside worlds could find it very difficult to adjust to life on Punartum.

Regrettably, there was nothing else I felt was done particularly well. The writing was adequate, but I also never felt like it gave me a clear picture visually or great insight into the characters. The plot was meandering, and I think this was further hindered by showing too many perspectives for the length of the book. Some characters had very few sections compared to others and disappeared for awhile, only to return closer to the end. I didn’t feel that having so many perspectives added anything to the book since none of the characters were particularly well developed, and some of them seemed unnecessary to the story. There were seeds of interesting stories and characteristics, but they never grew into their full potential. The main character, Rafi, has strong psi powers, but he struggles with that side of himself since he doesn’t want to become like his father, who used these abilities to manipulate others. Yet it never delved into Rafi as a character enough for him to become realistic—he just seemed like a generic character with a type of internal conflict that is common in speculative fiction. None of the other characters are particularly vividly drawn, either. Even though the more major characters achieve a lot by the end, their accomplishments never seemed as impressive as they should have since I wasn’t invested in any of these characters.

All the perspectives are third person except for Rafi’s friend Ntenman’s, which was an odd choice. At first, I thought it was perhaps because he was more open and personable than the other characters, but if that were the case, I would have thought Grace Delaura’s perspective would have also been first person. His voice reminded me a little of hers in The Best of All Possible Worlds, and the book also acknowledged that the two had similar personalities so I could see no reason for using first person for only one of a half dozen characters.

While I do recommend The Best of All Possible Worlds, I would have preferred to spend my time reading one of the other many books I want to read instead of The Galaxy Game. The characters are flat, and without feeling connected to any of them, the grand events toward the end fail to have an impact. While there are occasional glimpses of brilliance, that’s part of what makes this book so disappointing: it contains the potential to be a great book but it never manages to develop into one.

My Rating: 5/10

Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the publisher.

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