The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
A multiverse-hopping outsider discovers a secret that threatens her home world and her fragile place in it--a stunning sci-fi debut that's both a cross-dimensional adventure and a powerful examination of identity, privilege, and belonging.
CARA IS DEAD ON THREE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FOUR WORLDS.
The multiverse business is booming, 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 diseases, from turf wars, from vendettas they couldn't outrun.
But on this earth, Cara's survived. And she's reaping the benefits, thanks to the well-heeled Wiley City scientists who ID'd her as an outlier and plucked her from the dirt. Now she's got a new job collecting offworld data, a path to citizenship, and a near-perfect Wiley City accent. Now she can pretend she's always lived in the city she grew up staring at from the outside, even if she feels like a fraud on either side of its walls.
But when one of her eight remaining doppelgangers dies under mysterious circumstances, Cara is plunged into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and future in ways she never could have imagined--and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her world, but the entire multiverse.
TITLE: The Space Between Worlds
AUTHOR: Micaiah Johnson
PUBLISHER: Del Rey Books
LENGTH: 336 pages
GENRE: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Dystopian, Romance
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, medical content, medical trauma, torture, major character death, death.