This book was sent to me by the publisher at no cost.
This is the first book of the Manifold World series. It’s a portal fantasy and a coming-of-age story, with an Australian schoolgirl following a woman who had helped her – and following her through a rift into another world.
Saffron’s life is a fairly normal one; it opens with a distinctly unpleasant experience with a boy at school harassing her, and a stranger supporting her as (sadly) almost no one else ever had. In going to thank the woman, her adventures start – and almost immediately they go bad, showing very early on that this is not going to be an easy experience for Saffron (although the language barrier is dealt with through a particularly convenient piece of magic). She eventually discovers that she’s wandered into a state whose politics are currently rather grim, and has fallen in with people who aren’t exactly the Most Popular Citizens. And then an escapee from the castle ends up finding them, and things get even more fraught, and adventures ensue.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this book is the sheer diversity of the characters. Most of the leads are female, with a couple of men. There’s a wide variety of sexual orientation, from bi to someone I think is aromantic. There’s a wide variety of skin colours – you know, like in the real world; a trans character; those who are religious and those who aren’t; the magical and the not; old and young; parents and not; and all the other personality quirks that individuals humans can have, from characters with sunny dispositions to those who consistently make you want to leave the room when they enter.
In terms of narrative, there is a lot going on in this book. There’s the experiences of Saffron, who has to deal with the strange world she’s in and the physical changes forced on her – how will she explain these when/if she gets home? (I was forcefully reminded of Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway.) There’s Gwen, the world-walker, trying to manage this new girl as well as her own allegiances and secrets. There are a lot of conflicting allegiances because there’s a huge amount of politicking going on: both of the states where most of the action takes place are in difficult positions regarding their leaders, with people trying either actively or passively to change the status quo. Sometimes, indeed, I felt like there was too much going on. I liked that Saffron is forced to deal with the politics of the world she’s entered, and that the places she’s in are not presented as the only states, and that politics can be confusing. But sometimes I felt like the political situation wasn’t explained clearly enough – or, actually, that the problems with the system or the way that people were using the system weren’t explained clearly enough for me to care to the level that I ought.
It’s a fast-paced story, problems rarely being dealt with before more crop up; there’s magic that is difficult to use and requires training; there’s a bit of romance but not too much (for my tastes!). There’s a bit of traveling-around-the-place and camping but mostly it’s urban, and there’s a variety of perspectives used to present the narrative too.
I did enjoy reading it, although I’m not left desperately waiting for the next one. The book largely stands by itself – there’s a bit of cliffhanger at the end but in terms of the main narrative, it’s largely complete, which I appreciated.
You can get it from Fishpond.