A crown prince of a distant planet assumes the guise of a 19th-century American slave in this oddly absorbing New Age novel.
In the cosmology posited by this first novel in a planned series illuminating the â€œGaertnerian” worldview, Earth is part of a family of 383 planetary cultures in a â€œlife-stream” fathered by Aaron the Wayshower, one of an infinite number of cosmic progenitors and protectors. On Aumnia–Earth’s sister planet in this life-stream–survival is threatened by the economic imbalance caused by the institution of white slavery in its dominant kingdom, Verde. Young Prince Vada, heir to the Verdean throne, is content to maintain the status quo, though his mentor, Professor Behrim Montu, has tried to convince the prince that the increasing militarism slavery has inspired spells doom for all of Aumnia. Finally, Montu arranges for Vada to â€œtranslate” to the mid-19th-century United States (via a secret transport chamber installed in Maryland) where the prince will experience slavery firsthand. Once on American soil, Vada is kidnapped by slave-traders and sold to Rex Anderson, heir to Clearfield Plantation. With the help of Professor Montu, Vada quickly integrates himself into the plantation’s slave culture, dispensing wisdom and performing acts of strength that earn him the respect of fellow slaves (though readers familiar with the history of American slavery will question the representation of slaves as happy-go-lucky, dancing simpletons, and will cringe at the attempt to recreate â€œblack” dialect). But when Vada falls in love with Rex’s fiancÃ©e, Flora Bell, Montu’s plan–and Vada’s life–are threatened.
Gaertner’s debut moves along briskly, and though the novel falls well short of its grandly stated goal of answering the â€œbig questions,” the motivation behind the project–to harmonize disparate groups by creating empathy and understanding–is impossible not to like.