Imagine you make a significant decision—one that has repercussions that ripple ever outward to influence and affect the course of your life—and that each time this happened, that peeled off into its own separate, self-contained reality. Now imagine that’s true not just for you, but for everyone. The trick here is that, unlike everyone else, you are increasingly aware of these alternate universes because you slip between them. Fall asleep in one reality and wake up in another.
Kyle Wolfe doesn’t have to imagine. For him, this is his reality, only several orders of magnitude worse because the two main universes he deals with are equally horrible. In one, he’s the scarred survivor of a fire that killed his boyfriend; in the other, he’s hale and whole while his boyfriend is wheelchair-bound and their best friend is dead. Worse still, there is yet another reality harsher still than losing either his lover or their best friend—one where he’s been incarcerated and suffers like only the guilty can.
Desperate for answers, Kyle manages to build up a few key allies in each reality to help cobble together a plan. All his actions hinge on one key factor: using this ability to shift between realities to somehow reverse the course of action that led to the fire that destroyed his and his friends’ lives. But the window for even attempting this is narrow: it depends on him being able to take action when Obscura—a planet that has mysteriously appeared in the solar system—is in syzygy with the inner planets. More harrowing is the challenge of making sure he doesn’t go crazy from the stress of world-slipping or succumb to the overbearing forces of a teenage life derailed by tragedies both small and significant.
Wow. This book is 110% worth the read (why it’s not rated higher noted below).
I liked the semi-amibiguity about the setting and the characters—there’s just enough factual description to give a firm sense of place, but Van Rooyen otherwise lets the descriptive writing set the scene. This allowed me, at least, to get a vivid mental picture and be aware that the characters are slightly removed from the standard “hero” mold (more bluntly, these are not yuppie/wasp-y characters, but the allusions to these sorts of workaday facts about our MC are so low-key, it really feels like it’s just part of who they are and only gets mentioned when it’s significant…not because it has to be spelled out so the reader can assign some hyper-commodified mental image).
The plot is pretty straight forward to describe as an idea, but in actuality, on-page the reader is treated to what starts off as the interweaving of two distinct realities. Initially, chapters are bluntly labeled “Danny’s dead” or “Shira’s dead” to differentiate the two. While it’s a lot to keep in mind, I never minded having to pause and think which “version” of the characters was in which universe—just having to scrape through my brains to remember if Mya was an ice queen when Danny’s dead or if that’s when Shira’s dead just helped me relate with Kyle’s experiences. While I’d hesitate to call it brilliance, I did think Van Rooyen’s approach to expanding the universes was pretty damn clever. Maybe the newest addition offers the bleakest set of circumstances for Kyle, but at the same time, the situations in the other realities aren’t ever as cut and dry as “the one where Danny is still alive is better in all regards” so even though the later additions seem worse on the surface, there’s hope there’s something salvageable for Kyle in them, too.
The characters really shine. It sounds sort of funny to say that, then follow up with the fact that Danny and Shira (the boyfriend and best friend respectively) are somewhat flat. That’s probably only because we only get to know them in their single universe—the one where they didn’t die. Kyle, on the other hand, we get to see flip-flop between being a Rice-bound high school graduate and a burn victim and especially the way he shifts on-page as the moving between realities gets worse. Plus, there are his parents and Mya who are present in both/all realities and while they’re not exactly entirely different people (for example, Kyle’s parents in both worlds have relationship issues), they’re still identifiably different people. Overall, I felt I got very attached to Kyle and Mya, then his parents and Shira of all people.
So if I was so into the book, why isn’t it rated higher? The ending almost ruins the whole shebang. One the one hand, it’s perfectly fitting. On the other, it’s a total cop out. And the only real criticism is that, throughout the book, it’s pretty clear Kyle wants to figure out a way to “take it back.” He just might have the chance to at least pick with version of reality he stays in (as opposed to switching between them ad hoc) and it’s pretty clear he’d rather have a reality where at least Danny’s not dead—yet there was precious little on-page time devoted to the couple. I totally understand and appreciate that this isn’t a typical M/M romance, but more of an alternate reality thriller with a MC who happens to be bi…but for Kyle to spend so much time trying to figure out how to at least get to be in a world where Danny’s not dead, I would have liked to have gotten to know him at least as well as Shira (that said, there are a few significant exchanges between Kyle and Danny that appeal to my inner angst monster and establish them…nevertheless, by the end of the story, I felt a lot “closer” to Shira than Danny).
Overall, if you’re into sci-fi type books and want to read something that focuses on the action and how the characters act/react to it, this is a fantastic book.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.