This was another bargain bin book from Barnes & Noble a year or two ago; I hadn’t ever heard of Louise Marley before seeing this hardcover. The image was intriguing, and the fly-leaf description caught my attention:
A priest of the Order of Mary Magdalene and a skilled anthropologist, Isabel Burke has been called offworld to the barren planet of Virimund. The ExtraSolar Corporation, developing Virimund as an energy source, has encountered an “incident” that has stopped their work. It seems there are people on Virimund after all–descendants of an emigrant ship that left Earth three hundred years before. And something has changed them.
There are children born on Virimund who do not age. Upon discovery, these lost souls are sent to an island where they live by themselves, ashamed that they will never become truly human. One of these children has been captured by ExtraSolar, which hopes to discover the secret to her ageless existence. Under constant examination and study, the girl has yet to utter a single word. For ExtraSolar, she is a resource to be used and discarded. But for Isabel, she is an innocent who needs help.
I’ve always been drawn to stories about contemplative, introverted people and their motivations, and this is a fine example of that type of character. Except for the fact that this is set in a far-future Earth and one of its lost-colony planets, this story reflects the inner journey of The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin. Start with the premise of a new priesthood, solely for women, based on the understanding that Mary of Magdalene was Jesus’ first disciple. Add to that the scientific training and humanitarian focus protagonist Isabel Burke brings to the table, and you have a fascinating intersection of faith, care, and rigorous process.
When I first read the book, I could appreciate those elements. I had a harder time appreciating the pacing of the story. For a shorter novel it felt like it took me forever to read. The story ball hands off perspective between Isabel and her charge Oa, as well as various other characters, so while it’s clear whose head leads at the moment, it also never lets the reader settle comfortably in one perspective, underlining the vague sense of rootlessness the whole story tells.
Yet, the thematic drive that starts from the point of a botched first-contact scenario, through Isabel’s increasing drive to adopt the supposed child dislocated back to earth from that contact is profound on many levels. The subtle discourse on the nature of humanity and what makes an individual count as being worth rights and consideration is sophisticated.
For readers interested in a literary take on a scifi/fantasy theme, this book is definitely worth a try. I’m happy to recommend it even to those who are not normally fantasy fans; because of the complexity of the theme this qualifies as an edifying take on human rights outside the fraught political context our current Earth experience normally adds to such discussions.