Book Review: “The Space Between Worlds” by Micaiah Johnson

“I could become the thing I’d always feared, and then I might never be afraid of anything again.”

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.

One of my most anticipated reads of the year, The Space Between Worlds lived up to some of my expectations but felt flat of others. And yet, I can’t say I was anything but generally pleased with this adult fantasy debut.

The things that grabbed me most about this book were the world-building, the writing, and the protagonist. I usually don’t care as much about world-building but, knowing it can be done this well and this seamlessly, perhaps I should. Johnson has created a vivid world so unlike our own and yet so easily accessible.

Moreover, the writing is very good. Johnson pens some beautiful turns of phrase. I wouldn’t describe it as lyrical, but it does venture close. Johnson’s authorial voice is strong, a clear standout in the ever-growing sci-fi genre. That she channels this voice through a character like Cara was a brilliant choice.

Which brings me to Cara and the other characters. Johnson has created some truly memorable characters here, especially the protagonist. Cara is well rounded— strong, yet vulnerable; snarky, yet caring; ambitious, yet kind— easily one of my favorite characters of the year.

The other characters are, for the most part, as complex and realistic. However, the character I think needs more development is Dell, Cara’s love interest. Because Dell isn’t in the story very much, we don’t get to know her as intimately as I would’ve liked. This, in turn, hinders the romance. If Dell had just a little more page time, the romance would’ve been one of my favorite parts of the book.

The plot isn’t what I expected, but exciting nonetheless. I feel like it could’ve been better paced, but overall it’s a strong story. I was certainly surprised by many of the plot twists. But, even if you are able to guest the twists, it’s still a fun ride getting there.

Johnson plays with themes of identity and nature vs. nurture. No two versions of Cara, Dell, Nik Nik, or anyone are exactly alike. They are all shaped by their experiences and choices. It really makes you consider your own life and who you would be if just one thing was changed about your past.

The novel also tackles class and race, criticizing the systems that oppress the poor and the non-white (most specifically, capitalism). Beyond the glamor and excitement of technological progress are the people purposefully left behind. Johnson unpacks that sad reality, while also acknowledging there is no easy solution.

I suspect this is a standalone, but I wouldn’t be opposed to reading more in this world. It’s a solid debut and a good book in general. While the plot needs a bit more tidying up and the romance could’ve been better written, this is a book I can see myself coming back to again and again. In the meantime, my life will be the space between reading this book and reading it again ad infinitum.

Black/indigenous bisexual woman, East Asian sapphic woman, Black man, Black/indigenous side/background characters, non-binary side character, & F/F relationship

Domestic abuse, murder, classism, homophobia, racism, & mild body horror

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Have you read The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson? What are your thoughts? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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