Title: Tales of Dharma
Author: Jonathan Michael Erickson
Genre: Science Fiction / Space Opera / Time Travel
Tales of Dharma follows the accounts of the first colonists of the planet Dharma in the Andromeda Galaxy. The prequel to the Song of Ancients series details the origin stories of the landscapes and people that we see in the series. Chronicling the travel, adjustment, and settlement in new homes and spaces, Tales of Dharma follows multiple perspectives as they navigate a world unlike anything they’ve ever known.
In the twenty-fifth century, the planet Dharma is discovered as a habitable world. The news causes disruption and division on Earth and throughout the galaxy as people begin to contemplate whether to leave behind the places they call home. This story follows multiple characters as they discover what “home” really means for them.
As a novel-in-series, the book plays with a format that the Song of Ancients books do not follow. The book begins in an epistolary form and transitions to shifting perspectives as the novel progresses. With the mixture of letters and first-hand accounts threaded throughout the novel, the new format brings a fresh energy to the series and signals to the reader that this book will be different from the others.
A strength of this prequel is that it does not go back so far in time that it feels disconnected from the Song of Ancients series. In fact, we gain clarity about many of the familiar faces and places that we were curious about. At the same time, it will keep readers engaged by surprising them with completely new information and foreign characters.
The book’s strongest points are the world building and plot-driving devices. The character relationships struggle a bit, though. The romantic relationships sometimes draw on stereotypes and tropes, and because of this they could be seen as lacking in depth and emotional impact.
The book gives adequate explanations of some key terminology and aspects of the worlds that are important for new readers to understand. Someone unfamiliar with the Song of Ancients series will be able to follow along with the story easily, but those who have read the series will get the most out of their reading experience. It won’t have the same impact if it is read as the first novel in the series.
As a prequel, it is difficult not to draw comparisons between the novel and the books that succeed it. Unfortunately, Tales of Dharma didn’t reach the drama and tension that the rest of the Song of Ancients series has. We found ourselves yearning for the fast pace and high stakes. And by the prequel’s end, it feels like there’s still more that could be said.
On the other hand, the prequel is rich in imagery. Descriptions of the landscape invokes nostalgia and awe as it brings us back to the places we know from the series, but also reimagines them as they were at their first discovery. The novel’s mood is often somber and serious, and overall has a more sophisticated tone than other books in the series.
What does it mean to “live in dharma”? Tales of Dharma is a story of adventure and bravery. The prequel to the Song of Ancients series, this origin story weaves together the missing links to create a cohesive history of the lands and people of the Andromeda Galaxy. An intimate, rich space opera, Tales of Dharma will make readers ponder lessons of seeking something bigger than yourself and finding a place where you belong.
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