My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Ten Thousand Skies Above You is the second book in Claudia Gray’s Firebird trilogy. It continues the story of Marguerite Caine’s adventures through a myriad of parallel dimensions. Last time, she was seeking revenge for her father’s murder; now she’s out to rescue her boyfriend, Paul, who has been torn into four separate pieces by the shadowy corporation blackmailing Marguerite into working for it. As she strives to find the splinters of Paul while also trying to avoid helping the Triad Corporation, Marguerite must also struggle with the personal consequences–on both her life and the lives of her other selves–of interfering in the workings of the multiverse.
As with the first volume, A Thousand Pieces of You, Volume 2 is a slightly frustrating mixture of amazing world building and dreary love triangle. Gray’s treatment of the multiverse continues to be fascinating. Some of the worlds Marguerite visits are very similar to ours (in fact, by implication, one is ours; Marguerite herself seems to hail from a closely related but not-quite-identical world), whereas others are either more or less advanced or have been sent off in bizarre directions by important historical events. This time around, Marguerite visits a world that is, technologically and culturally speaking, stuck in the Middle Ages; a world in which the United States is involved in a war on American soil; a world very like her own in which she gets mixed up with the Russian mob; a technologically advanced world in which nations have been replaced by constantly warring corporations; and our own world (probably), which is recognisable because it has iPhones in it. She also revisits one of her favourite worlds from Volume 1, though that doesn’t turn out quite as she expects it to. Gray continues her ruminations on souls and destiny and whether or not alternate selves are all the same person, and it all gets very interesting when Marguerite leaps into a version of herself who is…well, let’s just call her “not a very nice person” and leave it at that. It’s interesting stuff. Every new world offers new possibilities, some exciting, some kind of horrifying.
However, eighteen-year-old Marguerite is a bit obsessed with Paul and the whole idea of the two of them being in love forever in every universe. I understand. Eighteen-year-olds are often intense about these things. That’s fine. It’s just that every time the love angle comes up, the plot stops dead. It becomes a chore to grind through Marguerite’s agonised thoughts about whether every Paul is the same and whether she’s really in love with her friend Theo in one of the worlds and whether she really should be in love with Theo and whether it means anything that Theo is in love with her and whether Paul is her fate after all and OH MY GOD, MARGUERITE, JUST STOP. When I read the bit where one of the Pauls called her “insecure,” I nearly applauded. It’s great that Marguerite’s got real flaws, but this particular flaw makes her seem awfully whiny and clingy at times. It’s hard not to cringe when she meets a new Paul and repeats over and over again that she’s sure she’s safe with him because he always protects her. Protect yourself, kid. I know you can.
The story is heading into tangled-conspiracy-theory territory in advance of the final book, which comes out in a few days. It seems promising. However, a new wrinkle in the love plot has been introduced, and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to get through Volume 3 without screaming in impatience. I do realise this is partly just my own aversion to love stories rearing its problematic head. However, take, in comparison, another Claudia Gray book, the Star Wars tie-in novel Lost Stars. It’s also a love story. It could even accurately be called a Romeo-and-Juliet story, possibly one of the most cliched types of love story around. However, in that one, the flawed, likable characters transcend the love plot. The love story is always there, but it doesn’t stop the flow of the narrative or impede the world building. Character development is not entirely tied to who is in love with whom and/or who is separated from whom. The love plot is absolutely important to the story as a whole, but it doesn’t take anything away from that story. Give me something like that, and I’ll stop complaining about all the gooshy love.
I would characterise Ten Thousand Skies Above You as see-sawing between two stars and four. It’s effectively a four-star novel into which a two-star alternative self from another dimension has leaped.