Koraalen: Planetary Symbiosis
by Heather Murata –
Click image to Purchase

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some books are fast-paced whirlwinds of action you can’t put down. This is like an ocean current that carries you along at a gentle pace; the surprising climax a storm brewing in the background waiting to pour down on you out of nowhere.

Author Heather Murata bills “Koraalen: Planetary Symbiosis” as a “science fiction fantasy novel with an environmental twist,” and I agree with her assessment. It’s also sweet, gentle romance. The main character, Nerissa, is a fresh marine biology graduate on the planet of Koraalen. She is about to embark on her first job posting, achieving the coveted — and rare — honor of being placed at her first choice, the guild in the capital city. Nerissa holds a special relationship with the sentient Coral off her home island of Coralia, and before she heads to work they tell her they’ve heard from the other Coral about a “sickness.” Despite being brand new to the job, she’s chosen to accompany her new boss, Shan, to travel the world in an attempt to solve this ecological disaster before it’s too late.

The world Murata created is beautiful — somewhere most of us would enjoy visiting if we could. This is a beautiful, atmospheric read — taking us everywhere from a beautiful Hawaiian-type island to the North Pole. Considering the majority of us are stuck in one place right now, this is an especially enjoyable aspect of this novel. The sentient Coral that share a connection with Nerissa are a unique, intriguing concept that makes the world one-of-a-kind, even within Murata’s universe.

Plot-building is also one of Murata’s strengths. She slowly built a strong plot with a surprising twist and a climactic conclusion. The ending leaves room for a sequel, which is a preference of mine. Life isn’t tied up in perfect bows, so leaving the readers wanting more is a solid choice. The beginning was a little slow, and perhaps a touch overwritten. But, once you get past that, the plot — and the romance subplot — start to pick up. So, whichever one you’re interested in will deliver.

Thematically, the story is clearly about saving the world and how we all need to do better. Few can argue with this fact. However, here, Murata is a little heavy-handed, especially in the first chapter. On page one, Nerissa laments to the Coral that “Traditionally it has always been every citizen’s duty–no, more than that–our honor to protect and nurture your colonies, the rain forests and all the ecosystems on Koraalen. But it seems the old ways are slowly fading in the hearts and minds of our people. The guilds have done studies regarding career choices on Koraalen and the results are not encouraging.” Some may be turned off by the heavy-handed nature of the commentary, paralleling the mismanagement of the Earth’s resources today. It’s reminiscent of “Fern Gully,” which was enjoyable as a child, but a recent rewatch revealed the obvious propaganda, which took away from the enjoyment. The entire plot of “Koraalen” could be ripped straight from Earth’s headlines, albeit with a less interplanetary, science fiction slant.

The two main characters, Nerissa and Shan, are bright, enthusiastic, intelligent, and open to love. However, Nerissa — beloved by her entire village, immediately adored by her entire office, unreasonably amazing at everything she did — is just a touch too perfect to be believable. All the characters, except for the obvious bad guys, are likable, and most are relatable. Shan, the second main character, is also rather perfect, but we see enough of his internal conflict to make him more human.

Another concern is the handling of the interoffice romance. It’s possible the times have made us more sensitive, but it happens so fast and without even a hint of scandal. It is a little uncomfortable how no one seems concerned about a boss and his subordinate dating. Though the world Murata built is almost utopian, so perhaps Koraalen is beyond these social issues. If so, many of us truly would enjoy visiting.

If you love atmospheric stories, this is definitely for you. I’m a big fan of Elly Griffiths Ruth Galloway novels, and this is similarly atmospheric. If ecological/environmental mysteries are your thing, pick up a copy. And definitely check this one out if sweet romance is your genre.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I gave it four out of five stars because I really enjoyed the story, in spite of the few moments where my suspension of disbelief was challenged.