“The Cult of Loving Kindness” by Paul Park
review ©️1995 by P. Douglas Reeder
Park draws a complex, plausible picture of a society in turmoil. Unfortunately, his narrative strings out descriptions of events so that it is often difficult to discern what has happened, and the reader must struggle to put together references. This is particularly true of sister and brother Cassia and Rael's flight from their home village, a major event which Park motivates only indirectly. His characters are difficult to understand and most of them I found difficult to identify with -- reading this immediately after "The Mists of Avalon" by Bradley may have been a mistake, as my appetite for stories about religious fanatics who believe in reincarnation is limited.
The main characters are Cassia and Rael, and Deccan Blendish, a graduate student, and Cathartes, a definite villain, a professor of Theology (he and his university are far more powerful in his society than ours). There are a number of other characters, though, and it only gradually becomes clear that these four are central, a feature that is not unattractive.
Cassia's acceptance of a role that others put on her is difficult to understand, given her earlier reactions. Rael is easier to understand, and their closeness is plausible given that they were the only humans in their village (the villagers are near-humans). Blendish has a tendency to pop in and out of the narrative, and his final role was disappointing to me, given that I identified more with him than the others. Cathartes is a fairly straightforward villain, though this thankfully is not evident at the start.
More interesting to me than the characters is their society, whose nature is gradually (too gradually) revealed. It has a very third-world character, though insofar as I can tell, it is not intended as an allegory for some current country, unlike Resnick's "Paradise". I haven't read the first two books of the Starbridge trilogy, which would have made some things clear, though "The Cult of Loving Kindness" is readable by itself.
This novel has much more of art than entertainment in it, and the art failed to reach me. It is somewhat reminiscent of Gene Wolf's work.