Poison and Light by Gillian Polack

‘New Ceres is our past and it is our future.’

Grania was the last woman to flee Lost Earth.  She took refuge on New Ceres:

‘One of the most human planets in the Galaxy and one of the most secretive.’

Grania is a renowned artist, a famed painter of light.  New Ceres, with its New Enlightenment should provide a perfect sanctuary.  The society of New Ceres, taken from the history of Mother Earth claims to have a civilisation of courtesy and beauty.  But look beyond the 18th century veneer, the coffee houses, and salons, scratch the surface to find that:

‘Daggers and poisons and plots are everyday politics.’

Nothing is straightforward on New Ceres, and Grania is vulnerable.  Meet Livia.  Livia has her own view about the shape of the society on New Ceres and will stop at nothing to realise her ambition.  But after Grania marries Dal, Grania’s role in society changes.  What will triumph: poison or light?

‘New Ceres saved so many creative souls, and it won’t accept the pasts they bring; it wants you all to conform.’

Ms Polack’s latest novel explores several different themes, including belonging and different manifestations of power.  New Ceres may look enlightened but beneath the surface its society is inflexible.  Those in positions of power, even those with good intent, cannot see how others might manipulate it.  Those without power do not always know how (and who) to ask for help.  The rules are complicated; the wrong choice might be fatal.

Can Grania survive in this world?  Can she thrive?

I finished the book with a few things to reflect on as I returned from an uncertain (fictional) world to this one.  We are each a composite of our experiences; each experience has an impact.  Both kindness (and its opposite) can be found in unusual places.

I would recommend this novel to any reader looking for a well-written novel which explores the difference in similarity (or should that be the similarity in difference?)  Or something completely different?  There are many possibilities.

‘Some things are just not what they are supposed to be.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith