Stars: 2.5 out of 5.
This is another example of a book where the idea sounds great when you read the blurb on the back, but the execution is sorely disappointing. Honestly, the most I can say about this book is meh.
The idea of a technology that allows humans to travel the multiverse is amazing, and there are so many ways a story like that could go! One of the best examples so far was The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson . Now that story had a heart. Unfortunately, this one doesn’t.
Oh, it has plenty of interesting ideas. The worlds of Pandominion are fascinating, and the idea that in some version of our Earth, primates might not have evolved to dominate the land is intriguing. The fact that most of those diverse races manage to coexist peacefully is also wonderful to see.
However, a long story like that can’t win on worldbuilding and concept alone. It needs engaging characters to carry the narrative and keep the readers engaged. And the characters in this book are extremely unlikeable. They are selfish to the extreme, unable to take responsibility of their own actions. They make often horrible decisions and commit atrocities and manage to justify it. I couldn’t stand most of them. The only character I could more or less relate to was Paz, because she was mostly an innocent bystander at the beginning, and any actions she took afterwards were fueled by her sense of right and wrong. But we meet Paz a lot later in the book, and for the first 35% I really had nobody to root for, so this story was almost a DNF for me.
Also, we have an empire that spans countless parallel universes and includes a diverse variety of “selves”, who manage to coexist even though some of them evolved from primates, others from wolves/cats, and even others from herbivores. But that empire itself is a repressive regime, where the only political actions seem to be strike first and annihilate the (possible) treat and ask questions never. Are you telling me that with all the bright minds available in all the multiverse, the Pandominion couldn’t come up with a better form of government?
Why is it that this mighty and very technologically advanced empire didn’t even try to communicate with the machines when they stumbled upon the mechanical civilization? Seriously, not a single attempt at communication was even considered. Or, you know, just leaving them alone. There are infinite Earths in this multiverse, so why not just blacklist this particular one and go explore somewhere else? No, the solution is to invade and annihilate. Without provocation, mind you. And they wonder why they get pushback? Or that they are being destroyed in response?
Finally, even though this book is about 500 pages long, it doesn’t even resolve part of the story that is hinted at in the first chapters. It just sets up the stage and brings all the main characters together. Yes, I understand that this is the first book in a series, and that there is an overarching story. But you need to give the reader some kind of payoff for investing hours of their time into this book. At least one story arc should have been satisfyingly concluded by the end of this book. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. And honestly? I won’t stick around for book 2 to find out what happens to the Pandominion.
PS: I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.