The year is 2132 when members of the Anthropologist’s Guild set down on the planet Henderson’s IV, or L’Lal’lor as it is known to the native population. Charged with the nonintrusive study of alien cultures, the crew discovers a society containing no love or laughter. It is, instead, centered around death—a world of aristocratic and common folk in which grieving is an art and the cornerstone of life. But the alien civilization stands on the brink of astonishing change, heralded by the discovery of Linni, the Gray Wanderer, a young woman from the countryside whose arrival has been foretold for centuries. And for Anthropologist First Class Aaron Spenser, L’Lal’lor is a place of destructive temptations, seducing him with its mysterious, sad beauty, and leading him into an unthinkable criminal act.
I've loved Jane Yolen since I picked up my first copy of Sister Light, Sister Dark over thirty years ago. I'm always excited when I find a book of hers that I haven't read yet. Especially when I find an older copy like I did at a used book store a few months ago. I can gladly say I wasn't disappointed. Cards of Grief reminded me why I fell in love in the first place.
The story jumps back and forth between different characters points of view. I really was able to get to know each of the main characters, even though the book was only a little over 100 pages long. By the end the characters weren't just good and evil. I mean obviously there were antagonists and protagonists. But I didn't hate the protagonists. I didn't agree with what they did. I thought some were way more selfish than others. But I could see that they were only products of the world they grew up in. Manipulative? Cruel? Yes. But their actions were brought about by centuries of the society they found themselves in.
The story also dances back and forth along the timeline. I wasn't sure at first if it would make it more difficult to get pulled in, but it didn't. With each leap more of the history of The Grey Wanderer was told. I eagerly turned each page waiting for more to be revealed. What made it even more interesting was that even when I thought I knew the reasoning behind certain things, the timeline would jump forward and the truth would come to light.
I also really loved Yolen's descriptions. She paints beautiful pictures with her words. Drawing the reader ever farther into the amazing world she's built. And that world? By the end I felt like I felt like I understood the world of the grievers and the grieven. I understood their history, the importance to their Halls of Grief. The matriarchal society made sense.
I loved the book. I do wish it had been longer. I wanted to find out what direction Linnet, B'oremos and the council took their world. Even if there are more books to follow this one I wanted to keep reading long after I'd closed the book.
Cards of Grief is also available on Kindle if you interested in getting a copy right now without leaving your house. Which isn't always the case with older books. I definitely recommend reading it when you get a chance.