Ocean’s Godori, a stunning debut novel by Elaine U. Cho, begins with brief, curious peeks into the world of its sci-fi setting, told across the perspectives of several central characters. There’s Teo, second son of a family whose technology exploits fund the Alliance: Korea’s prominent space organization, whose reach across the stars is vast. There’s Haven, a medic on the onset of joining a new ship crew, but ostracized for his background as a Mortemian (we quickly learn that in this setting, societies have long since propagated on planets beyond Earth).

And then there’s the Ocean, an outcasted space pilot who, despite the turbulence of her past, has found a crew of her own that she looks out for. The journeys of these three intertwine when the crew Haven joins ends up being Ocean’s, and that Teo and Ocean have a close friendship for reasons initially undisclosed. Together, they get embroiled in a high-stakes plot across the solar system when a mysterious actor strikes against Teo’s family — with Teo subsequently framed for committing their crimes.

The novel has a lot on its plate, as it infuses the concept of an exciting space adventure with themes of finding one’s purpose in a world hyper-focused on claim, expansion, and profit. Its handling of its premise is near pitch perfect. The tone of the story is familiar, ruminative, and reflective of what our current society could look like after the advancement of space exploration. Ocean and other characters grapple with trying to make sense of themselves and their relationship to others, while burdened by greater forces outside of their control alone. The dynamics between Ocean and her crew are charming, as is Haven’s slow ease into learning to trust them not just as crewmates, but as friends.

The worldbuilding around Korea’s Alliance, which extends far beyond Earth, is thought-provoking in its extensive crafting. This narrative device provides interesting grounds for the characters to be explored through — Ocean’s push-and-pull with her Korean heritage is a reoccurring theme throughout the novel, on account of distance from her home country, albeit with that distance spanning the far reaches of space. Teo, as well, goes through an inner reckoning as he begins learning more of the history of his family’s partnership with the Alliance. All in all, Ocean’s Godori offers a riveting new exploration of familiar themes of identity in its highly realized speculative vision of our society projected many years later.

What really embellishes this novel into something substantial is also its most easily apparent: the prose. Cho writes with a knack for picking up on the words and feelings her characters want to express, but don’t. From Ocean’s to Haven’s inner struggles, there’s always an acute observation about what’s left unspoken, yet lingers around them, weighing on their minds and their commitment to figuring out their desires. As a result, what could have been a story presented solely on its surface level by well-trodden sci-fi tropes instead has a consistent, earnest maturity to it.

The only noticeable room for improvement is perhaps in its final moments. While many novels falter in their ending due to final-hour developments that contradict earlier establishments, Ocean’s Godori has a serviceable ending. Instead, by the time it’s over, readers may likely wish for more, as the novel could easily fit more story to pad out its plot just a little more, to see further development in its characters and in the roads of Teo’s journey to clear his name, with Ocean, Haven, and others by his side.

Ocean’s Godori manages its pace well, knowing when to slow down in its quiet moments between its cast living their daily lives, while also ramping up for its tense, action-packed moments of space chases and shoot-outs in unfamiliar lands. And while the novel could stand to be a little longer, it sets itself up well for hopefully more forays into its deftly crafted world. The future of Ocean and her crew is looking bright.

‘Ocean’s Godori’ author Elaine U. Cho will be visiting Elliot Bay Book Company on Sunday, April 21, at 7 p.m. in support of the launch of her debut novel. 1521 – 10th Ave. 206-624-6600 or visit the store’s website at elliottbaybook.com. 

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