Last year I had the great pleasure of reading C.E. Morgan's The Sport of Kings, an epic family saga that centers on horse racing. The Sport of Kings was my favorite read in 2016. It was so rich in language, character, and story. Once I finished it, I was eager to read Morgan's debut novel, a book that had been sitting on my bookshelf, largely unnoticed, for years.
At first appearance, All the Living is definitely a different sort of novel than The Sport of Kings. While The Sport... was a mammoth volume in weight and appearance, All the Living is a tiny thing, easily read in under six hours. The scope is much smaller, as well. While Morgan's second novel fills in backstory and spends considerable time with entire generations, All the Living jumps right in and most of the novel focuses on the couple, Aloma and Orren. Keeping that in mind, All the Living didn't have the punch that its successor had, but it had no problems standing on its own.
In such a small space, Morgan succeeds in forming a story that is full and enclosed in rich language. Despite the constraints, the story never feels rushed, neither does it feel incomplete or plain. I was surprised by how easily I was swept up into this tale with so little movement. Where the novel lacks, however, is in characters. These are great characters, but they're not as developed as I'd have liked them to have been. I don't really feel like I particularly understand either Orren or Aloma. When they make drastic choices, I'm not convinced that there actions are believable because I really do not understand the character. This is especially true with Aloma, a character that is extremely interesting, but not fully rounded. I'd have liked more time to get to know her and understand what she'd been through before page 1.
All the Living captures a distinct rhythm that was also present in Morgan's second novel. She builds worlds that you can see and feel, but also hear. Any well written book can transport the reader to another place, but with C.E. Morgan, it feels a little more vivid, as though maybe you'd actually been there. I look forward to visiting the next place she takes me.