I had heard quite a bit about this in my blogging circle because everyone seemed to enjoy it but I also realized that most of them were hardcore sci-fi readers, so I thought this one wouldn't be for me. But I couldn't resist buying it when it was on sale and also requested the arc for its sequel. So I started reading this on the cusp of the new year because I wanted to try something different, and it definitely was a great way to welcome 2022.
I always try and do those things on the first day of the year which I think I'll want to do more of in the rest of the year (it's just a silly sentiment I've heard since my childhood). So I technically shouldn't have read this pretty dark sci-fi at this time, but I didn't bother to read the blurb, so didn't even realize what I was getting into. The writing is beautiful in its own way, giving just enough details for everything so that we can fill the rest of it with our imaginations. It's not overly descriptive but there were some scenes (beginning right in the first chapter) which just evoked all kinds of horrific feelings and while I was scared, there was no way I could put it down. It's also a hard sci-fi book with multiverses and myriad of alien species and lots of advanced technology, and it did take me some time to understand it (and probably didn't for a lot of it too), but I was also too engrossed that I almost finished it in a single sitting. The pacing can feel relaxed at times but it's always followed by terror inducing fast paced action and chase sequences and I had a great time envisioning it all in my head.
I also can't deny that it was the themes that the author explores which held my deepest attention all throughout. We see what grief and loss can do to a person, and how not processing this trauma can morph into being reckless and hurtful (both towards oneself and others). The author also shows us how trauma can suddenly force a person to grow up (both literally and metaphorically) even if their mind isn't ready to face the realities of being an adult. The author also creates a world which felt pretty queernormative and I loved the exploration of gender fluidity while also discussing the good and bad reasons for wanting body augmentation. The found family aspects of the story are also very strong and it was a source of hope amidst a very grim story.
Caiden (or Winn) is a young 14 year old who loses everything in the span of a few hours and is suddenly thrust into a multiverse he doesn't understand and a reality he didn't know he was a part of. But what he does know is that he wants revenge upon those who are responsible for his loss and is single minded in his goal towards achieving that. While there were many moments where I wanted to force some sense into him, he was also very easy to sympathize with. He is a very good, sweet and compassionate person by nature but finds these qualities of his as not useful in a brutal world, and especially in his path for vengeance. And the suffering he endures for the sake of his goal just made me distraught and I wanted to give him a hug and protect him from this world.
Each of the members of the found family he encounters are unique - sweet and nurturing and prickly and mysterious - but they all care in their own ways and I loved watching each of their individual as well as group dynamics. His childhood friend/sister Leta has a small physical presence in the book but is always at the back of his head and plays a major part as his invisible conscience and wisdom. Threi is an intriguing antagonist whose motives you understand at times, even believe he might not be too bad, but at other times I just wanted to strangle him. I have a feeling we have more to see of his bad side. I don't wanna go into spoilery details of the other antagonists and alien species but just know that every single one of them is compelling and extremely well written.
Ultimately, this is a surprise addition to my read pile and I have to give all the credit to the engaging writing and immersive world that the author has created. While hard sci-fi fans will find all the intriguing sciency details they love in these pages, readers like me will love the brilliant characterizations and relationship dynamics, along with its very strong themes of grief, revenge, humanity and found family. So whatever kind of SFF reader you are, do give this one a try. And now that I have the sequel, I'm excited to get to it soon.