I’m in two minds regarding this week’s book review post. I want to love the book – and, on some levels, I do – but on so many other levels, it left me shrugging my shoulders in a serious case of the ‘So Whats?’
Yes, astute reader – that is the name Neil Gaiman adorning the cover. Can you imagine the horror of a Neil Gaiman book which I am in two minds about loving? It’s almost like being ripped in half by wild horses.
By ‘almost’, of course I mean ‘not at all.’ It’s not at all like being ripped in half by wild horses. But it’s painful enough, let me tell you.
My pain is assuaged a little, however, by the fact that this book isn’t really a Neil Gaiman book. The story came from an idea that he helped to cook up, but the book itself was mostly written by Michael Reaves, a man with an extraordinary list of writing achievements to his name. Perhaps this book suffered a little from weight of expectation, then; from two people as insanely talented as this, perhaps I expected more.
This isn’t to say there’s nothing to enjoy about the book. For a start, I loved the premise of the story. We’re introduced to a teenage boy named Joseph Harker who is a little like me in terms of his sense of direction; in other words, he doesn’t have one. He begins his story by telling us that once, he managed to get lost inside his own house. I warmed to him straight away, and in fact the voice throughout this book (that of Joey himself) is a lovely, easygoing, fun and engaging one. On a class activity with two of his fellow students – one a bullish boy who has a grudge against Joey, and the other a beautiful girl named Rowena on whom Joey has a crush – he manages to get lost again, but this time it has serious consequences. He walks into a cloud of mist and becomes disoriented, and when he manages to find his way back he realises he is in a world which looks, on the surface, a lot like his own Earth – but it’s not. He has the jarring and horrible experience of returning to his ‘home’, which looks similar to his own house from the outside, but instead of his own family he meets a woman who resembles his mother but who doesn’t know who he is, and a girl who looks a lot like him.
He realises, eventually, that he is in an alternate reality; this is a world like his own, but not exactly.
Desperate to escape the frightening creatures which are now pursuing him, Joey runs from world to world, trying to find out how to get home. He encounters another world in which everything is the same as his own, except in it he is supposed to be dead, and in the course of recovering from this shock he is intercepted by a strangely bewitching woman and her two grotesque sidekicks. They bring him on board a ship, beautifully named the Lacrimae Mundi (Tears of the World), and whisk him off to realms unknown. However, Joey is being followed – but is it by friend or foe?
The single greatest strength in this book is its use of multiple worlds, each of which have a version of Joey living in them. The story is essentially the adventures of all the Joeys. We meet Jay, Jai, J/O, Jakon, Jerzy, Josef, and Jo, of all genders and races, all of whom are their own world’s incarnation of ‘Joseph Harker.’ All of them are Walkers, or people with the ability to travel between worlds, and all of them are highly prized by Interworld, the organisation dedicated to protecting the Altiverse (all possible versions of Earth) from being taken over by either the Binary or HEX. The Binary is a completely technological version of earth, and HEX is a completely magical one, but both of them are totalitarian in their outlook. They would overthrow the harmony of the Altiverse if allowed to take control of all the worlds, most of which function using a mix of technology and magic. With the help of the ‘other’ Joeys, all of whom have their own individual talents and strengths, and a wonderful character named Hue about which I’ll say no more, the Walkers attempt to save the universe. All of this is great, and I loved it.
Where the book is weaker is in terms of plot. There are several teeth-grindingly irritating coincidences in the book, especially at the end when Joey faces down Lady Indigo, the great villain, and the whole book is a little quick and simplistic. Some other reviewers have said they really admired a scene in the middle of the book when Joey and his mother have a heart-to-heart about him going away and straight into danger, but it annoyed me. It’s wonderfully written, and very heartfelt, but I just didn’t think it was believable. We have a mother whose fifteen year old son is telling her he will never see her again, giving away his possessions to his sister, and preparing to leave forever – but she says she can’t stand in his way because she trusts him to do what’s right?
Well. Maybe. I just know what my mother would’ve done if I’d tried pulling that at fifteen, and it wouldn’t be to wave me off in the middle of the night (without even waking my father up to say goodbye to me, incidentally), shedding a few tears and giving me a going-away present. Something about the scene just didn’t seem real to me, and I have to admit it did affect my enjoyment of the rest of the book.
The book is a quick read, and it is enjoyable. However, I did not love it. I will probably check out the sequel, ‘Silver Dreams’, which has just been published, though, so, I guess that’s an endorsement of sorts. That said, I feel that ‘Interworld’ could have been more. It seemed underdeveloped and sketchy – but then I guess that’s what sequels are for. Right?
Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.