The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Main Character(s), Bi/Pan Main Character(s), Genderqueer/Nonbinary Secondary Character(s).
Dimensional travel is possible, but only if your doppelganger is dead. The MC travels to a world where her double was recently murdered, and the plot gets going in earnest from there. I was pleasantly surprised by how deliberate the pacing is, it doesn't rush to get us to that very important journey. Instead we linger in the setup, getting to know the hub world and at least one other before she goes to the plot-important one for the first time.
The MC is mostly a reliable narrator, but when she travels she can be very wrong about what’s happening in a particular world. This is used to its full advantage, creating subversion and surprise as she discovers mistakes in her assumptions and the new possibilities opened by those gaps. The plot which I thought would take the whole book to tell turned out to just be the first half before twisting all that was set up before to tell an even more interesting story. I would have been content with the story I thought I was getting, but I love what it turned out to be. This even included two of my favorite things: heists and interpersonal politics. So much of this book is built on understanding people, cultures, and how shifts in either between worlds change what can and cannot be done, what words to use, and how things will go down once they’re in motion.
The world-building (heh) is really good! It focuses on two main places and then gradually describes them by talking about how things (and people) are the same or different in the parallel worlds. It creates a feeling where every description of the background or a character is there for a reason. Would we normally care that this house is white? Maybe, maybe not, but if it’s a different color on most worlds and this time that indicates something important because of the knock-on effects of changes like [pick whatever spoiler you want], that makes it feel like the details matter. And, hey, even if you won’t remember what that house color was it still did its job and informed the world. This could have been and info-dumping nightmare of a book and instead it uses everything to make the worlds feel significant with its focus. It keeps the number of frequently referenced worlds low enough for the important ones to be memorable, but also giving little tidbits about ones we won’t actually get to see. I love parallel worlds and time travel stories and this was fantastic. The number of secondary characters whose variants I had to track was mercifully short, letting me enjoy the machinations without getting confused about which versions did or said which thing.
The backstory (and, increasingly, the main story) is chock-full of trauma, for the MC and most of the secondary characters as well. Check the CWs, because the book’s MC is dead on over 370 worlds and we find out many of the common reasons. It’s a steady drip of sometimes horrific details that fit the story and matter to current events, but none of the worlds are kind to children, and many of them were especially rough on the MC. It’s a great premise, and I appreciate how the book uses it to comment on the classism and racism inherent in a system which requires people who are dead elsewhere, which means they’re probably not privileged in the main world either. Little details like that are used really well throughout the book and I loved every minute of it.
CW for colonialism, racism, homophobia, gaslighting, confinement, child abuse (backstory), addiction (backstory), child death (not depicted), domestic abuse, violence, gore, blood, torture, major character death, death.