Book Review: The Space Between Worlds

A beautifully written character driven story about place, belonging, and inequality that left me yearning for more. I can’t express how much I truly just fell into this novel, like sinking into a warm comfortable bed and never wanting to leave it.

Click Here For Goodreads Synopsis: An outsider who can travel between worlds discovers a secret that threatens her new home and her fragile place in it, in a stunning sci-fi debut that’s both a cross-dimensional adventure and a powerful examination of identity, privilege, and belonging. Multiverse travel is finally possible, but there’s just one catch: No one can visit a world where their counterpart is still alive. Enter Cara, whose parallel selves happen to be exceptionally good at dying—from disease, turf wars, or vendettas they couldn’t outrun. Cara’s life has been cut short on 372 worlds in total. On this Earth, however, Cara has survived. Identified as an outlier and therefore a perfect candidate for multiverse travel, Cara is plucked from the dirt of the wastelands. Now she has a nice apartment on the lower levels of the wealthy and walled-off Wiley City. She works—and shamelessly flirts—with her enticing yet aloof handler, Dell, as the two women collect off-world data for the Eldridge Institute. She even occasionally leaves the city to visit her family in the wastes, though she struggles to feel at home in either place. So long as she can keep her head down and avoid trouble, Cara is on a sure path to citizenship and security. But trouble finds Cara when one of her eight remaining doppelgängers dies under mysterious circumstances, plunging her into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and her future in ways she could have never imagined—and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her world, but the entire multiverse.

The Space Between Worlds was a last minute addition to my TBR in 2020. I was looking for some additional books on NetGalley and came across it. The cover looked really cool and the synopsis even more so, but I couldn’t remember seeing a review of it from any of my blogger friends. So I put in the request and thankfully it was approved. Because OMG I loved it!

What I said above about it feeling like falling into a warm comfortable bed and me never wanting to leave it…that’s true. Each time I sat down to read I didn’t want to stop, and only did so because I needed to sleep or had to do something else I could no longer put off. Part of this was how drawn into the story I was, and part of it was the author’s prose. Really those two things are so intertwined you can’t separate them without diminishing the whole.

“Of the 380 Earths with which we can resonate, I’m dead in 372.”

First, the story. Read the synopsis above and you’ll get an idea of it. At it’s heart is multiverse travel and all the trials and travails that come with it. The important issue you learn very early on is you can only travel to another earth if you are no longer alive on that earth. Otherwise…well…bad things happen. But that doesn’t keep you from interacting with other people on that other Earth you may know on your home Earth. I’d say the first 20 percent or so of the book was set-up for everything else. It set the tone and pace for all that comes later and lulls you into wondering where the story is going and then…well, then PLOT TWIST and things change and all is not as it seems and everything begins to fall into place as the narrative marches forward. This transition was so well done. I was like “whoa…what just happened” and had to reread it a couple times. The remaining 80 percent of the novel was just so well crafted with one minor climax and plot twist after another, ever moving you to the story’s conclusion.

Underlying all of this is a story about place, belonging, and inequality. Cara the protagonist is constantly trying to find her place in the world (worlds really) knowing she doesn’t really fit anywhere the way she wants to. She’s kind of an outcast from where she comes from, and not really accepted where she lives now. The same can be said of her relationships with others. Cara struggles to figure out her place within those relationships and is never really sure where she stands. Impacting all of this is a history of trauma and abuse endured at the hands of others that affects everything about the way Cara sees herself and her roles in her various relationships on every Earth. It makes for a really complex multi-dimensional character.

If you’re a fan of romantic elements in your reads you’ll also love this book because there’s this constant thread of romance throughout. Johnson does a beautiful job developing this thread that just gets bigger and stronger and more and more aching as the narrative progresses. It’s not a feel good sexy-time romance, but more of an unrequited love that smolders with that kind of intense heat which only comes with one party feeling for another but not able to act on it. Oof…it was just really well done.

When you add all this together you then realize it’s a character driven novel, and one written with a deft hand. It’s funny because I didn’t realize how much this really was a character driven novel until it just struck me like half-way through. It kind of snuck up on me and once I realized it I was smitten. I love character driven books and what’s great is The Space Between Worlds doesn’t smack you over the head with it, you just kind of discover it as you unpack it like a well made dessert layered with ever unfolding tastes on your palette.

Finally let me say something about Johnson’s prose. What I noticed immediately was a beautiful use of simile and metaphor. Typically these were woven together and it SO set the mood and tone for a scene and the development of setting and character. This was part of what made this book such a pleasure to read. It was like I was feeling and experiencing what Johnson had written right along with the protagonist.

All of this combines to form a story that is beautiful and gut-wrenching. If you want the feels you get it with The Space Between Worlds. Johnson doesn’t hit you over the head with them, but you just kind of all of a sudden realize how much you feel for Cara and the other characters and all the ups and downs they experience. I literally sighed at the end and had to collect myself.

I really don’t know what else to say except I hope more of my friends read this book and enjoy it as much as I did. The Space Between Worlds made my “best of” list for 2020 and I hope it makes some of your “best of” lists for 2021.

5 of 5 Stars

Authors: Micaiah Johnson
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballentine/Del Rey
Publication Date:  August 4, 2020
Format: Kindle
Pages: 322

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