Save the Pearls: The Good Stuff
I always seek to balance out negative reviews with some positive content, so I think I’d be amiss if I didn’t take a minute to mention the things that Save the Pearls did well. Yes, it’s rather thin, but this is a useful exercise for any work you’re giving a severely negative review, ensuring that you are taking a fair look at both its good and bad points, rather than merely looking for things to criticize.
For one thing, while the Combs are not very well designed, they do have a great name. There’s a dual etymology of “honeycomb” and “catacomb” that suggests at once crowded conditions, underground preservation, and the heavily controlled and stratified lives of the inhabitants. I wonder how much of this the author thought about.
The story actually gets significantly better about a quarter of the way through, when Eden and Bramford leave the Combs. The exceptionally racist stuff drops off, replaced with “native Americans are in touch with the earth” racism more on a level with the background radiation of racism that can be found everywhere. More importantly, it stops trying to be cautionary futurism–indeed, it pretty much stops trying to be sci-fi at all–and turns into a simple Macguffin-quest adventure story, an infinitely easier genre to pull off.
Midway through, there’s a subplot that I think works genuinely well. Eden realizes there’s a child hiding in the village and sets about trying to coax it out. It turns out to be Bramford’s son, hidden away here because he’s an albino, the most hated of all minorities in their culture. There’s a competent setup/payoff here where albinos are said to be extinct earlier in the story. In Bramford’s relationship with his son, we catch a glimpse of how the racial stratification could actually make for a narrative more complex than “people of each race hate every other race.”
In this subplot, I actually found myself rather liking Eden. It’s the only point in the story where she’s motivated neither by racism (calling black women “bitches,” exotifying Bramford) nor by adherence to an awkward, forced Character Trait (reciting the scientific names of animals, referring to Emily Dickinson as “aunt Emily”). She independently decides that she wants something. We get to see her being curious and compassionate. I could do with a little more of this version of Eden.
Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be an ebook version of the sequel, Adapting Eden, so we may never know whether this Eden gets more page time or whether racism and clinging to her man remain her primary motivations for the rest of the series.
New Age CD found here.