Pros: Stunning characterizations
Rating: 5 out of 5
Louise Marley’s The Child Goddess takes place in the future, when there are several human colonies on other worlds. ExtraSolar Corporation sets up a power plant on a world that should be uninhabited, only to end up with an “incident” when they discover an island full of children living very primitively. One of the children and one of the corporation employees end up dead, and another child is injured severely enough that the corporation takes her in for treatment. Then they somehow decide it would be a good idea to take her back to Earth, where they’re at least forced to take a Magdalene priest, Mother Isabel Burke, a medical anthropologist, as guardian for the girl, Oa. However, Isabel isn’t going to roll over and rubber-stamp their activities the way they’d like. She finds out they’ve spent nearly two years subjecting the girl to daily medical examinations, leaving her terrified, and she starts to interfere. When the corporation drugs them both and takes Oa away, Isabel manages to get a message out to a friend of hers, Dr. Simon Edwards, with whom she has a history. Simon has a great deal of political connections that could help–but first they need to figure out what makes Oa so special and interesting to the corporation.
You know an author is good at depicting a character when you get so swept up in the character’s emotions that you actually get angry along with the character! Isabel tries so hard to get Oa to be treated well, and when the seemingly heartless Dr. Paolo Adetti does everything in his power to stymie her, it drove me nuts. I actually hated Adetti, and it was almost difficult to read the portions where it became clear that no really, he’s human too, and not an evil person. There’s only one character who could be seen as being relatively one-sidedly bad, and she manages to remain interesting by owning her lack of repentance for her choices.
The relationship between Simon and Isabel is engaging: Isabel broke her vow of celibacy with Simon, and Simon broke his marriage vows with Isabel. But the two are genuinely in love and trying to do the right thing now. Oa is also a fantastic character, descended from an old African tribe that lost contact with Earth before colonizing the planet Virimund. She’s a child, and yet not a child. She raises many questions about what a person would be like if they could never grow up. Jin-Li Chung and Matty Phipps are great examples of side characters done right. They have implied backstory and plenty of personality. Jin-Li tries to help just because it’s the right thing to do, and ends up getting sucked into the trip to Virimund that Isabel must take. Matty was the only friendly face Oa saw on her journey to Earth.
Isabel’s religion is a real and present thing for her, and in some ways makes it easier for her to help Oa. This is handled without heavy-handed moralizing or implications that one religion is necessarily better (or worse) than another. It’s one of the better depictions of religion I’ve seen.
Content warning for some child abuse and a rape mention.
Overall I was totally sucked into this book, and stayed up late to finish reading it.