Ten Thousand Skies Above You — Claudia Gray [Firebird #2]

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Ten Thousand Skies Above You by Claudia Gray is the sequel to A Thousand Pieces of You, a book that I read last year but never got around to review (I promise a review of it is coming!). I thoroughly enjoyed A Thousand Pieces of You and although I’m not sure it wouldn’t have made it to my top ten books that I read last year it definitely had more to do with what else I had also read more than any failings on its part.

So when I embarked on my read of Ten Thousand Skies Above You, I was really excited. That excitement carried me through about a third of the book before it quickly died down and was replaced by a heavy dose of disappointment. I shall warn that there probably will be spoilers below because angry/disappointed reviews are always hard to keep spoiler free.

We join back with Marguerite whilst she is being chased through medieval-esque streets in another dimension’s Italy, accused of witchcraft—her parents are what passes for scientists in that world—and searching for Paul. It’s all rather exciting and enthralling and sets the pace as fast and intense. Until it promptly goes and crashes itself against the wall of back story explanation that interrupts the flow of what is going on. We get a lot of back story with very little substance, a lot of things that we could have been informed of quicker without losing the pace the medieval-verse set at the very beginning.

Unfortunately, these first couple of chapters are pretty representative of the rest of the book.

Dear Marguerite has to go hunting after Paul through the different dimensions again. The only difference is that instead of being believed to be a murdered Paul’s soul has been split in four and dumped in the bodies of four other Pauls. The bad guys at Triad did this so that Marguerite would finally accept to work for them (something they had tried to get her to do before by offering her lots of money, then threatening her as evil corporations are wont to do) and go to two other dimensions and destroy their Firebird projects. She’s bartered with them so that they’ll also give her a cure for the deadly toll that Night Thief addiction is starting to take on Theo’s body.

So we won’t get to see any of Marguerite’s dimension Paul again for this. Which is really disappointing. We didn’t really get to know him in book one as he was stuck as a passenger aboard Lieutenant Markov’s body, and it seems that he isn’t being dealt a much better deal this time. Paul is the ultimate princess in distress character whose only purpose seems to be for other characters to have to go travelling to rescue him (even in book 1 as Marguerite technically rescues him from the Russia-verse after his Firebird is taken away), and as such his character seems non-existent. Idolised to almost unbearable extents by Marguerite (who seems so keen to forget how she felt about him just a few months ago), we never get to know the one who should be our Paul, and all the Pauls we encounter seem present to mainly fawn over/moon over Marguerite and eventually do little more than give her reasons (can we really call them reasons?) to question if she really knows her Paul after all.

Theo is again Marguerite’s companion but this time it’s the actual Theo from her dimension. Despite realising that he is not the same person as the guy she travelled with before Marguerite keeps acting in ways as though he is exactly like that other Theo: selfish and likely to betray her. She keeps repeating how people are fundamentally all the same through each dimension without taking into account how Theo may be feeling about it.

And that’s because Marguerite has changed. I remember the Marguerite of the first book being a little clueless, but overall a well-rounded character. I liked her. I might have never connected with her as much as I have with other heroines but she was nonetheless a likeable character. Well forget all about that, because this Marguerite has changed almost beyond recognition. In the time in between both books she has somehow become selfish and self-centered to a level that took me by surprise. She doesn’t once stop to think how her actions will affect the people around her, or the Marguerite whose life she has taken over, and is only focussed on what she wants and how she is the one who is always correct. Let’s add to this her quickness at judging every other world as ‘messed up’ one way or another as though her own dimension doesn’t have its own problems (and it probably does given it’s very close to our own and she lives in America), which just hammers home how much of a sheltered, entitled little while girl she is (her reaction to mafia Paul drives this home).

When she lands in a dimension where Marguerite and Theo are together, she all but freaks out and tries to start the possibility of a relationship with that world’s Paul without caring how that’s going to leave everyone feeling. She is so convinced that she must be with Paul in every universe that she never stops and remembers that these universes exist to represent every possibility ever. And as we saw in book 1, there was definitely a possibility she could have been with Theo. In another universe, when she is faced with the darker side of Paul’s life, and what he could have become she completely freaks out and abandons Theo (who has just been shot, mind you) to go take refuge in the Russia-verse where she won’t have to face Paul.

That’s where the book really started to go downhill for me. The entirety of Marguerite’s time in the Russia-verse is self-indulgent filler that adds literally nothing to the story bar making it all the more obvious how selfish Marguerite has become. When she realises the situation the Grand Duchess is in, Marguerite is horrified. But does she immediately leave to allow the Grand Duchess to take control of her life again, and make sure she doesn’t mess anything else up? Ah but of course not! Where else would she have the time to recover from having met a Paul that showed more of a dark side? And as Marguerite does not seem to understand that people can be shaped by how they are raised as well as their nature, she is melodramatically thinking she doesn’t want to see her Paul again and therefore doesn’t want to move on to the next world.

When she finally does, we get to meet the version of Connolly that is behind everything that has been going on and the plot thickens by a layer. In that dimension, her sister was the perfect traveller but because of an accident she has been splintered into a thousand pieces. Her parents are, understandably, distraught and willing to do whatever it takes to get their daughter back, even if that means having to erase the existence of hundreds of worlds. The catch is that they need Marguerite to help with it. She once again gets onto her high horse and immediately refuses, thinking that her parents will ‘get over’ Josey’s loss eventually.

That line about grief in the book made me almost put a hole through the ceiling. Marguerite dares to stand there saying how people learn to live with grief and eventually move on when through the entirety of the book it’s obvious that she hasn’t gotten over losing Lieutenant Markov from the Russia-verse, despite it not being her Paul. Yet, when other people’s grief interferes with her life, she is more than ready to tell them to get over it.

Well done to the writer for representing the messed up way society treats those grieving without pointing out how unhealthy and messed up it is and instead making it seem ‘right’ as it comes from the person telling the story, someone we are supposed to identified with. Truly, bravo.

So Marguerite refuses to work for them, even though I think we all know by this point that had it been her Paul she would destroy everything to get him back, and she runs off to get the last fragment of Paul’s soul. Queue the longest scene of them eventually talking, her telling him everything (and a lot of stuff she really didn’t need to, but sorry, she wanted someone else to share the guilt/tell her it wasn’t her fault), and him going all ‘I shouldn’t be with you, I can only hurt you’ because of what had happened to the Paul from that dimension. Now this would have been considerably more bearable if Paul had had any amount of characterisation before this point. Instead the scene feels like a long filler and I spent half of it wanting to yell at them both to get the hell back to their own worlds.

When they finally do, Theo is there to greet Marguerite. Apart from that it’s not Theo and the book ends on what is to me the worse cliffhanger possible: Marguerite is taken over by her Evil Self from one of Triad’s dimensions.

The bones of the story are still great. Hell, when is the idea of travelling to dimensions that can show an infinite amount of possibilities not exciting? Well I’ll tell you: when every world we come across portrays solely white cis straight characters. Every. Single. Time. Too many of the worlds are alike ours in most ways: there are no worlds where Paul and Theo are dating each other, where Marguerite has been adopted by parents that aren’t white, where she’s a lesbian, or maybe even a world where one of the cast is transgender. Nothing. There is nothing representative alternative people either, no goth Marguerite or punk Theo, no long-haired-poet-shirt-wearing Paul. Whenever something alternative comes up it’s really badly done: see Theo’s description from the Home Office-verse which sounds like he’s walked out of old 80’s dystopian movie crossed with The Tribe. And when something LGBT is finally mentioned it is to tell us that Evil Marguerite will also sleep with girls just because it’s fun to mess with people.

Can we have some slow clapping please?

So I really wanted to like this book, but it wasn’t meant to be. The idea of having to travel to different dimensions to gather back the pieces of someone was already pushing at what I like to read about (anime is about the only medium that has even made these kinds of quest storylines bearable and even then that’s usually because they don’t totally remove a member of the cast to do it). The ending pretty much put me off picking up the next book when it comes out because I just don’t trust Claudia Gray to not make this the most irritating thing ever, and the general lack of diversity to the cast was the final nail in this book’s coffin.

I simply won’t stand there and excuse all white, all cis, all straight casts anymore. The world is made of more than that and if writer’s can’t be bothered to put it in their books they can expect to see more and more backlash from readers.

Definitely not a book I would recommend, I definitely would not encourage any lovers of the first one to pick this one up. Stay with your good experience before it’s all shattered in more pieces than Josey’s soul, trust me.

2/5

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