My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A Million Worlds with You closes out Claudia Gray’s Firebird trilogy. I gave each of the previous works 3 stars and have been bouncing between 3 and 4 on this one. I’d say 3.5 would be fair. Bits of the novel work extremely well, while other bits are still bothering me. All in all, the final book in the series constitutes a fairly strong conclusion.
Dimension-hopping “perfect traveller” Marguerite Caine here picks up exactly where she left off in the cliffhanger of the second novel: trapped in her own body, which has been stolen by “Wicked,” the worst of the alternate Marguerites. However, Wicked’s visit is a brief one because Paul apparently has Marguerite-Sensing Superpowers and can identify any Marguerite in any body (sigh). Wicked escapes on a wild journey across the dimensions, with Marguerite on her tail. The plot is oddly video-game-like; Marguerite must continually hop into versions of herself that Wicked has recently set up to be killed, figure out the traps, and save herself and often other people from death. Wicked’s scheme is both vengeful and purposeful, as the more Marguerites she murders, the less chance Marguerite and her allies have of saving the dimensions Wicked’s grief-stricken parents are trying to destroy in their “Monkey’s Paw”-like quest to put their dead daughter Josie back together again. (Side note: I’ve got to admit I’m disappointed that Gray never mentions “The Monkey’s Paw,” even obliquely. The Josie plot is pure W. W. Jacobs.)
The tour of the dimensions continues to be fascinating. Though most of the dimensions aren’t that different from Marguerite’s own, her alternate selves frequently find themselves in wildly divergent situations. As well, some of the dimensions are different enough to provide great set pieces. I won’t give anything away, but there’s one dimension in particular that allows Marguerite to…well…really get to know herself. A lot of the time, the difference is made by whatever field Marguerite’s scientist parents decided to go into in a given dimension. Marguerite, who is becoming increasingly comfortable as an interdimensional traveller, seems endlessly fascinated by the new worlds even as she struggles to save them.
However, she is also discovering the costs of her travels. This element is one of the book’s strongest. The previous volumes have Marguerite beginning to realise how much damage she may be doing, but the lesson is driven home here as the Marguerites start to die and even the ones who survive may find their lives irrevocably altered. Wicked also demonstrates to Marguerite that her own good intentions have the potential to be twisted out of shape, as does her artistic gift. Marguerite’s ultimate antagonist here is not Wyatt Conley, the villain who pops up throughout the previous books but who barely appears in this one; it’s instead a damaged version of herself. Her coming of age is tied inextricably to her ability to know and understand her own worst self.
As with the other books, one of the weak links is Marguerite’s love life. It’s increasingly hard to care about her relationship with Paul. There are points where Paul’s stony refusal to admit that he may not always be broken as a result of his “splintering” experience works, but a lot of the time, he may as well just be announcing that he’s drawing out the suspense so the love plot doesn’t conclude too soon. The romance is often a distraction from the more interesting things going on, to the extent that it’s a relief whenever Marguerite jumps away on her own. It also makes me grit my teeth a bit to see an eighteen-year-old character so extremely convinced that she will be with the same man forever and ever, but maybe that’s just me.
Yet the love plot is often less distracting here that it is in the other books; it is not what almost drove me down to three stars again. This time, the biggest problem is that Gray seems to have lost track of her own story. There are a lot of inconsistencies, starting with the method Wicked’s cronies use to destroy dimensions (didn’t the characters in the last book say they hadn’t quite figured that out yet?). Many of the inconsistencies constitute spoilers, so I won’t get any more specific, but while I was reading, there were several points at which I thought, “But…!” The ending also seems a bit rushed, with plot points tumbling over each other and characters changing their behaviour for the sake of what seems like plot convenience rather than genuine development.
In the end, the Firebird trilogy is somewhat uneven but worth reading. Marguerite develops as a character over the course of the trilogy, especially in the final book, and her adventure is exciting and imaginatively described. I’m still not a huge fan of the love triangle, but the closer focus on Wicked in A Million Worlds with You almost makes up for it.