“The Galaxy Game” by Karen Lord

This book was one of the most complex reads I’ve had to endure in a long, long time. Not because the language was dense – although there were certainly times I could’ve used more explanations – but because there were a multitude of characters, where at points I had trouble following all the names of people or places. In the end, I had to construct charts all throughout the inside covers of the book in order to keep track of everyone.

It was impressive. I liked how much of the world had been built. Lord did a good job with that. There was a whole family tree with grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts, and family friends. Rafi’s entire world had been flushed out, and that I truly appreciated. It’s not often authors pay this much attention to detail, not to mention she gave everyone their own characterizing personalities or features. And the perspective shifts… there’s more than a few in the story, though there’s definitely three central characters here. Read the following excerpts and listen to their voices.

Example of different perspectives:

Chapter 1 – POV 1: “They balanced each other, moments bound by a shared pivot point – blood, ability, and a common prison. The more information they received, the more certain she became; the greater the potential for success, the more his terror grew that they would fail.” (26)

1-2: “He left me gaping and flapping in the corridor as if I were the moujin, and not him. He’s three years younger and acts superior. I should hate him, but he took me elephant riding last break, so I owe him, even if he doesn’t want to be owed.” (32)

Here, it changes not only in character perspective but in writing as well. Each character has a strong voice that comes through the writing, where readers can identify with characters’ individual personalities. The first was a sister and brother, talking about their hope for escape from a “prison.” And, the second was a student talking about a classmate.

The main way to identify characters by this book was through their personalities, not their looks or features. Other characters, such as Rafi, had multiple nicknames which made it difficult to follow. But, it did get better. Characters got backgrounds and histories, which led to more in depth characterization.

Example:

“You see, Baranngaithe used to be a nexus, in every sense of the word. He began as a Wallrunner, naturally, but then he got into the managing aspect of the game and used his flair for binding to build and lead one of the most efficient corporations…” (171)

Because of the complexity of this novel, there are characters who have been introduced that are used only for a few pages or chapters and then are finished. Never to be seen again. From my relative count, there are over 50 named characters in this book with about 320 pages. That would put a new character around every 6 pages or so.

Normally, I try not to be negative about a book, and I’m not looking down on this one. But, I would like to use this as a talking point to let writers know to be careful with your number of characters. I love complexity, and this novel was challenging to the point that I enjoyed having to map the world and its characters relationships. But there can be a point where it goes too far, and other readers can become confused or discouraged from reading.

Take a moment while you’re writing and examine all your characters. Make sure they add something to the story or are used multiple times. If they’re mentioned once, instead of naming them, try a colloquial phrase instead. Instead of Margaret, try the aunt-with-the-purple-hat. Instead of neighbor John, try man-with-the-hanging-gut. Be creative with your name calling instead. Not everyone can appreciate complexity or numerous character development.

Lord, Karen. The Galaxy Game. New York, NY: Del Rey, 2015. Print.

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