Harmony by C. F. Bentley
Science fiction and fantasy novels truly excel when they successfully create a believable culture. It need not be complex, but readers must be able to relate to something. Harmony takes us to an alien world, where one’s station in life defines everything.
Sissy, a member of the Worker caste, has hidden her unusual caste marks for years. But on the day of a great earthquake in Harmony City, she sings the planet back to calm and is found by the Temple. Most people have one of the seven caste marks on their left cheek, but Sissy has all seven on her right cheek.
Such children normally would be deemed deformed and sent to an asylum, but Sissy’s remarkable gifts cause Gregor, the High Priest, to declare her the replacement for the recently deceased High Priestess. Although Gregor hopes for an uneducated pawn in his political game, Sissy confounds him by truly taking an interest in Harmony and its citizens.
Meanwhile, the Confederated Star Systems has sent a spy named Jake to Harmony, to obtain the formula for a special material called Badger Metal. Nearly indestructible, this metal might give humanity an edge in its fight against the alien Maril. But when Jake becomes Sissy’s bodyguard, he might have to choose between his mission and the woman he admires.
At its heart, this novel is about the value of change. Harmony has used (and abused) its caste system for hundreds of years; as the story progresses, readers find graphic examples of what happens when cultures stagnate. But Harmony also touches on the insidious nature of change itself, as characters discover that certain ideas — thought to be unchanged — actually are deviations from original doctrine.
By creating a character who doesn’t fit in — Sissy is a Worker, dumped unprepared into the much higher Temple caste — the author not only creates the culture, but offers a window into it from the outside.
This allows the setting to be explored from different directions, and this well-rounded approach gives the tale a richness and depth.
I picked up Harmony on a whim, and thoroughly enjoyed it. As a first-time author, Bentley has a skill and deft touch that make her tale readable and accessible.
This review appeared in the Davis Enterprise on August 21, 2009.