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A novel by Anna Jarzab
(2013, Random House)

Many Worlds, book 1

Kidnapped to another timeline to serve as a substitute until the royal government finds the real princess, a young woman finds herself in the middle of a power struggle that involves different nations, and factions within the United Commonwealth.


-- First reading (hardcover)
June 27th to July 9th, 2017


It took me a bit of time to get into the concept, but once I did, I quite enjoyed this adventure. The author has presented a plausible world with interesting characters, and I grew to like Sasha, Thomas, and Callum. The love triangle was well presented, and I felt myself cheer for both couplings, though I thought Sasha felt too little remorse about leading both men on.

Spoiler review:

The character dynamics are what really drive this story. Sasha's relationship with Thomas, her remorseful kidnapper, goes through many ups and downs. However, the teen aspect didn't work as well for me, but maybe that's because I'm so far out of my teens now.

The story starts in a whirlwind of the kidnapping. It seemed odd to me that Grant (even the imposter), who was eighteen compared to Sasha's sixteen, would so completely ignore his friends, such that they wouldn't even come out to tease him at the prom about taking this younger bookworm girl. However, the story is about Sasha, and the wonderful night she had at the prom, just to be taken against her will to a parallel universe.

The parallel universe idea has been around for a long time, and it's even mentioned earlier in the story by the physicist grandfather (both Sasha's parents were physicists, too). This one, called Aurora (because Earth's magnetic field is so much weaker that aurorae can be seen all the way south to New York on a nightly basis), differs in essence by the fact that George Washington was killed in the Revolutionary War, rather than going on to become the President of the United States. In Aurora, there is no USA, but there is a Royal Commonwealth with subject states, and then the enemy Farnham in the western part of North America.

Thomas is an agent of the King's Elite Service (KES), whose analog is Grant from Sasha's universe. Analogs are lookalikes in different universes. I'm not keen on the science aspect of the analog, that the universe organizes itself into patterns, so even genetics are less important -people who look alike appear in many universes, though they'll have vastly different personalities, and even different genealogies.

Sasha objects to being taken to Aurora, and manages to escape Thomas right from the start, from the trunk of his vehicle. At this point, I thought the world was too similar to our own, despite the Liberatas, with its cars and run-down Chicago equivalent, that it wouldn't be too interesting. And the physical world of Aurora is probably the least interesting part of the story, maybe because of that. Things greatly improved once Sasha was brought to the Citadel and the Tower, where she meets the General, and learns about how Princess Juliana was kidnapped by the Liberatas.

Except that we the readers are privy to Juliana's thoughts at various points in the story, and we know that she arranged her escape, not kidnapping, in order to avoid getting married to the son of the Queen of Farnham.

I liked the way the author changed the tone of the story by shifting from Sasha's first-person exchange to the visions of Juliana, and finally to the outside perspective of Thomas, both of which were described third-person. It was a different way of telling the story, which was particularly interesting in that it allows the reader to see what's happening outside the first-person perspective.

Under threat of death, Sasha is forced to impersonate Juliana in her day-to-day life. In essence, this means visiting the paralyzed and incoherent king (the real Juliana thinks the General was behind the assassination attempt), planning the wedding with the Queen, doing a televised interview, and interacting with her staff. Sasha manages to take it all in stride, aside from stressing a lot. Nobody questions her, which is probably realistic given her position of power and her strong-willed nature.

At a dinner in her honor, she gets an allergic reaction to chocolate, one of the major differences between her and Juliana, which is treated in the same way -somebody offers an explanation, to which everybody else nods and thinks it makes sense, even though it's certain nobody's ever heard of this phenomenon before -spontaneous allergies. But it's the way people look up to authority, and if Dr. Moss says it's so, then it must be true.

The majority of the story is based on the relationship between Sasha and Thomas. There's a native infatuation between them even before the story starts. Sasha knows who Grant is, but it's doubtful that he even knows her name (though by the end, it's clear he knows her face). Thomas is also in love with Juliana, though he won't admit it to himself. So they have a rocky up and down relationship, where Sasha responds to every mistake by slighting him and giving him the silent treatment. While this gets fatiguing, it's probably realistic. Thomas, at least, wants to talk it out, explaining how he had no choice about kidnapping her (due to the General), that he didn't lie about his parents being dead (though the General adopted him), and so on. In the end, the two of them realize that they're in love, and they start making out.

The love triangle comes into play when Prince Callum, from Farnham, arrives. As Sasha notes, it would be so much better if he wasn't so handsome and easy to like. In fact, in Sasha's original universe, he's an actor. They hit it off right away, as he's nervous, and has never even been out of his castle, so she has lots to show and tell him. They also fall in love. Callum reminds me of Peeta from the Hunger Games, as he's introverted, thinks that the Princess is so much better than him, and has admired her from afar pretty much all his life.

After a bomb attack at a gala concert, they are removed to a beach resort for their protection. Callum is a smart guy, and he can see that Thomas and Sasha (whom he thinks is Juliana) have feelings for each other. But she denies it, and Callum initiates a kiss, which she doesn't deny. She doesn't even think about Thomas when she's kissing him, only getting cold feet when she realizes that Callum wouldn't mind taking their relationship further (especially since they'll be married in a few days anyway). When she later goes off to make out with Thomas (for hours? is this a teenage thing?) she doesn't think twice about Callum.

Callum figures out the king's ravings, and they head back to the castle; Thomas has been recalled and confined-to-quarters for getting romantically attached to his charge. Callum and Sasha get unprecedented free reign around the castle as they try out the king's code to a couple of doors. Where are there bodyguards? Where is Gloria, with her schedule? Is nobody else going through the corridors, protecting the Queen's bedroom and the king's office? They felt like giddy teenagers, which is what they are, despite their royal positions. Still, it felt grossly out of place.

They find some secret files in the king's safe (fortunately he used the same passcode for the safe as for the door) relating to the the Many Worlds project, but it raises more questions. Eventually, the General tells Sasha to poison Callum, enough so that the boy can't be extracted when he declares war on Farnham and holds the prince hostage.

The backstory gets more complicated when Sasha revealed to Thomas and Dr. Moss that's she's been having visions about Juliana all her life. They use her fear of heights to release more visions, and Dr. Moss reveals that Sasha's father was from Aurora's universe, sent to Earth to sabotage the research into alternate universes, because the General thinks war is inevitable between them. Incidentally, I think the mysterious Dr. March is Moss' analog from another universe, perhaps Earth.

The climax comes when Callum secretly calls for help just before Sasha poisons him (after telling him about it), and in the ambulance they are rescued by Farnham secret service, and brought back to Callum's castle. In an unexpected twist, the queen puts Sasha in prison, where Grant has been staying miserably for the last week or more.

I can't figure out how Thomas comes to Farnham and breaks into the deepest cell. His explanation that he "knows people" in the castle sounds more like a cop-out by the author. However, the scenes in the cell, with Thomas, Grant, Sasha, Lucas and Juliana, work well. Sasha is held in the alternate universe by her tether (also the name of the second book in the series). Otherwise, if she touched her analog, she would have been sent back to her home universe. Grant punches Thomas, which sends Grant back home. Lucas, Thomas' brother who is secretly working for the Liberatas, brings Juliana into the cell, hoping to send Juliana to Earth permanently using the same method. But after being injured, Thomas deactivates the tether, which sends Sasha back to Earth.

Needless to say, Sasha is not happy. In love with Thomas (with mixed feelings about Callum), and with him injured in a cell with his brother and an angry Juliana, Sasha will probably do anything to get back to Aurora.

I'm looking forward to the next book, wondering if the grandfather knows anything about the parallel universe, and how things will proceed. The characters were the main drivers of this story, and while some of them fell a little flat into the teenage frame (teens necking, unsupervised trouble in a Royal household, etc...), most of it worked really well.


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