The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 18 February 2021
Genre: Science fiction
Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler free for this book and the rest in the series.
Why are reviews for books you absolutely loved the most difficult to write? You all probably know by now that Becky Chambers is one of my absolute favourite authors of all time. I adore her cosy science fiction writing and a new book from her is always a big event in my reading life. I went into The Galaxy and the Ground Within knowing exactly how much I’d love it, and all my expectations were met.
When a freak technological failure halts traffic to and from the planet Gora, three strangers are thrown together unexpectedly, with seemingly nothing to do but wait.
Pei is a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, torn between her duty to her people, and her duty to herself.
Roveg is an exiled artist, with a deeply urgent, and longed for, family appointment to keep.
Speaker has never been far from her twin but now must endure the unendurable: separation.
Under the care of Ouloo, an enterprising alien, and Tupo, her occasionally helpful child, the trio are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they might be to one another.
Together they will discover that even in the vastness of space, they’re not alone.
If I had to put my finger on it, I’d say that the reason I connect so strongly with Becky Chambers’ books is the ‘human’ element. Her books are about people just getting on with their lives — there are no sweeping space epics, heroic destinies, or nefarious evils to be defeated. I’m sure that there are great heroes and space battles happening in the background — in fact, Pei’s storyline confirms it — however I love that we focus on the average person living their life in the galaxy. I truly think that every person can see something of themselves in her characters for this reason.
The strongest aspect of this novel is the characterisation — it is the definition of a character driven book. There is a bit of a plot — for readers familiar with her other books, there’s more plot than Record of a Spaceborn Few but less than A Closed and Common Orbit — and the focus is definitely on these strangers as their lives are put on hold on Gora. Through these characters and their backgrounds, Chambers gives us a greater glimpse at the galaxy we’ve come to know and the different hardships that every species faces. From political and social exile to war and the empty promises of the governing body, this book doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects. Despite how cosy and lovely all of her books are, the world is not a perfect place and that makes them all the more readable and relatable.
Speaking of characters, there are five characters with four points of view, and I struggle to determine which of them is my favourite. We have:
- Pei: a soldier at a crucial crossroads in her life. She’s the only character we’ve seen in a previous book — she is Ashby’s lover in The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.
- Roveg: an exile from his homeworld and an outcast among his people. He’s a soulful artist with a very important appointment to keep.
- Speaker: a member of a misunderstood and mistrusted species. She is incredibly close with her sister, whom she is separated from after the disaster on Gora.
- Ouloo: a mother and businesswoman. She runs the Five Hop One Stop, where all the characters are grounded. She just wants everyone to be happy and comfortable (if I had to pick a favourite, it’s probably her).
- Tupo: Ouloo’s child, who has all the curiosity and bluntness of a prepubescent child and is the glue holding the group together.
All of these characters have different backgrounds, statuses, and political views, however The Galaxy and the Ground Within is all about setting aside preconceived notions and prejudices and learning from one another. The way that this group learns to respect each other and forms friendships is just wonderful to watch.
The Galaxy and the Ground Within is a fine conclusion to one of the best modern science fiction series out there. It has so much heart and like all of her other books, is moving and impactful (it made me cry in the bath and I’m not ashamed to say it). If you’re a fan of the previous books in the Wayfarer series, I really think you’re going to love this one. I’m so sad to see this series coming to an end, but I am so excited to read whatever she writes next.
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