Author: Hilari Bell
Publisher: Courtney Literary (prev. ROC Penguin, 2000)
Released: (eBook re-release) November 1, 2012
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Author for review
Earth’s leading scientists were able to repel The Vrell, an alien slave trading race, by developing a rapidly mutating virus that killed the invaders. But that victory came at a price. Now Earth’s teenagers are dying from GED, a genetic disease caused by the virus. There remains one hope for the planet's future; to locate an earth colony established before The Vrell attacked.Brilliantly detailed and expertly crafted, Navohar is an exhilarating ride of exploring new territory and navigating complex moral situations.
Scientist Irene Olson sets off on an expedition to track the lost colonies, bringing along her nephew Mark, who is dying from GED. Though they have found many colonies, alien diseases have killed everyone. The scientists are losing hope when they finally reach Navohar, a planet where the colonists have survived a deadly plague. Their blood and DNA could cure Earth’s dying children...but only if Irene can uncover the secret the colonists are hiding.
The biggest thing that stayed with me throughout the whole novel was an impression of just how richly and lushly detailed the world of Navohar is. First of all, the way the planet doesn't have just one alien race but a varied and layered ecosystem including micro-organisms and (six-legged) animals - I love that, it makes it so much more 3D, so complex and exciting to experience. And Irene is the perfect guide to experiencing these complex situations. Her propensity for profanity in a time when youths have become more conservative in their language (!), combined with her pig-headedness and determination, mean that we get to see the world of Navohar clearly and without (too much) bias, and her openness to new experiences means that we see everything through a wide-eyed wonder. Her tone is so irreverent, so openly annoyed and openly delighted at various points, that the whole story, though it actually is quite serious, ends up being a really fun, laughter-filled read.
I love the rest of the people in Navohar also, and some of them add to the fun quality of the book as well. They're just as multi-layered as the wildlife on Navohar, and it's really interesting to watch how things play out based on each character's personality. And what I loved was that we know of course that everyone is going to end up fine, that everything will be alright - but which everyone? With such a big split between the groups over the colonists' secret, I was kept guessing right up until the end. The last scene alone turns on itself so many times, first this group having the upper hand, then the other, that I didn't know how exactly the situation would be resolved until the last page.
The moral question of the story is part of what keeps us guessing until the end. It's not an easy decision. And what makes it more complex is Irene's statement at the beginning of the novel about what Captain Willard decided to do about the embryos found on each planet, when he decided to take them back to Earth since their colonists had all died, because "'Enough life has been lost already,' he said. A moral man." Which makes his future actions more ambiguous.
A small point I found amusing was the naming of the planets. Irene says in an aside that when people started colonizing planets, they had to find enough names for all of them, so they had a program randomly generate names and discarded only the ones that seemed silly. "After all, who wanted to colonize Grizzelskrink?" As an amateur linguist, I love that scenario.
And the end - it's perfect. I can't say too much about it without giving away all the little surprises that crop up throughout the book. But it's perfect because it captures how completely Irene accepts her decision and her situation - and it's funny!