March 6, 2021

Review: The Space Between Worlds

The Space Between Worlds The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a story of the multiverse, with the title referring to the literal space between the 380 Earths so far discovered. It also refers to the space between the "worlds" of societies, the rich and privileged of Wiley City and the poor of Ashtown. Our central character, Caralee, straddles both worlds as a "traverser," a traveler to alternate Earths, brought up from the Ashtown slums and given a job in Wiley City because of that very ability. The rule of this multiverse is that you can't travel to an alternate Earth where your doppelganger is still alive without the universe spitting you back broken and dead. Cara's alternates are dead on 372 Earths, which makes her incredibly valuable.

But Cara has a secret of her own. She isn't from Earth Zero, the primary Earth. Six years ago, her own doppelganger came to Earth 22, Cara's Earth, and died as a result. Cara, in desperate straits, took on her double's life and returned to Earth Zero as that Earth's Caramenta. Now she works for the Eldridge Institute, the company behind multiverse travel, and Adam Bosch, the technology's genius inventor. She travels to various Earths to fetch information and works to keep her real identity hidden.

This book has a good setup and some interesting concepts. Unfortunately, the overall worldbuilding fell flat for me, because of the extremely narrow focus on Wiley City and Ashtown. Not that the two opposing societies aren't well thought out and engaging, but they might as well be on alien planets for all the information we are given beyond them. For example, what country are they in? Or if there aren't the same countries in this future, what continent are the two settlements on? Are we in a post-apocalyptic future or a post-climate-change one? There's no information beyond vague hints, and that simply isn't satisfying. Not that there needs to be great infodumps about all this, but a bit more background and expanded focus would have helped the narrative.

The characters fare a little better, mainly because the main characters have different iterations of themselves on the various alternate Earths Cara travels to. The ways in which they turn out differently, for better and for worse, fuels a good deal of the plot. The main character in particular carries a good deal of survivors' guilt, and her arc in this story involves working through it. If there had just been better worldbuilding, this could have been a story I could heartily recommend. As it is, I really can't.

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