Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publish Date: 4 August 2020
Page Count: 336 pages
In The Space Between Worlds Eldridge Institute CEO Adam Bosch has discovered how to access the multiverse and covertly exploit other versions of Earth for data and physical resources. But the technology to remotely download the data hasn’t been developed, and due to some law of physics, Eldridge’s interdimensional travellers can only safely visit realities where their alternate self has died.
Enter Cara, born into poverty on the wrong side of the walls of Wiley City. She has survived an addict mother, a tyrannical emperor and the thuggish, Mad Max-like Runner gangs. But, in the greater multiverse, her survival in this reality is an exception: Cara is dead in 372 of the 380 accessible Earths, making her the perfect courier to retrieve surveillance information from other realities.
When a version of Cara dies on Earth 175, she is able to traverse there for the first time. But her landing doesn’t go as planned, and she is drawn into local events, uncovering secrets that may threaten the life she has built for herself on Earth 0.
“The multiverse isn’t just parallel universes accessible through science. They are in each of us, a kaleidoscope made of varying perceptions. Dell and I were in different universes this whole time, and I should have known.”
The book’s title refers to Cara’s job as a traverser as well as her struggle to assimilate to Wiley City society despite her imposter syndrome and the citizens’ ingrained classism. The story also explores her experience with domestic abuse, childhood neglect, and the unique trauma of seeing variations of these events in other worlds.
Johnson refers to her writing as ‘grit’ in the acknowledgements, and these are certainly heavy themes to deal with, making for a different reading experience to the escapism I usually look for. She also writes in first-person, with language more reflective than visual. Being a visual reader, this made it difficult for me to connect with the story and protagonist until over halfway through the book.
“Why are we, who are so unhappy, fixated on long lives? What is the point? An easy life isn’t blessing. Easy doesn’t mean happy. Alive doesn’t mean anything at all.”
The bleak tone and harsh characters reminded me of Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death which I was unable to finish. Therefore, I’d say my reading experience is indicative of my personal preferences and somewhat prudish attitude towards themes of abuse in SFF, rather than Johnson’s writing skills.
The Space Between Worlds is a unique and interesting approach to multiverse theory. Its standout feature is a convincing exploration of Cara’s character as she rediscovers her sense of self. The plot involves some unexpected twists as well as a F/F romance that enrich the story. I really enjoyed the final third of the novel as it moves towards a suspenseful climax.
This book is a unique experience that will appeal to many readers, so if any part of this review has piqued your interest, don’t hesitate to get yourself a copy. Opinions might be divided among hard SFF readers as this novel takes a suggestive rather than an explorative approach to worldbuilding and the use of the multiverse concept, which may leave some readers frustrated by unanswered questions.
The Space Between Worlds will be published on 4th August 2020 and is now available for pre-order.
Thank you to Netgalley and Hodder & Stoughton for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Trigger warnings: Domestic violence
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