Title: A Thousand Pieces of You (2014)
Author: Claudia Gray
Publisher: Harper Teen
Read: 22nd – 24th July 2018
Genre: young-adult; science-fiction; romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“Marguerite Caine’s physicist parents are known for their radical scientific achievements. None more so than the Firebird, a device that allows users to jump into different universes, which catapulted them into instant fame. But then Marguerite’s father is murdered, and the killer – her parent’s handsome and enigmatic assistant Paul – slips into another dimension before the law can touch him. Marguerite can’t let the man who destroyed her family go free, and she races after Paul through different universes, where their lives entangle in increasingly familiar ways. With each encounter she begins to question Paul’s guilt and her own heart. And soon she discovers that the truth behind her father’s death is more sinister than she ever could have imagined. A Thousand Pieces of You explores a world where other versions of our own lives are possible in an amazingly intricate multi-universe, and where fate is unavoidable, and true love inevitable.” (Synopsis from the publisher)
Marketed as Orphan Black meets Cloud Atlas, Claudia Gray’s first book in a YA sci-fi Firebird trilogy sets up the concept of a highly technical scientific device which allows its user to travel into a parallel universe, “jumping into” the body of their counterpart in that universe and taking it over, with all the trials and tribulations expected as the user has to quickly learn the rules of a new society and the responsibilities of the new persona they have inhabited. What sounds like it will be a fast-paced race through different personalities and iterations of the story’s characters in fact is more thoughtful, raising bigger questions about scientific discovery, morality and ethics, and the effect of death. Providing that the reader is willing to suspend disbelief and buy into the science surrounding the Firebird device, A Thousand Pieces of You proves to be an engaging read as we follow Marguerite through time and space in search of runaway Paul.
“Apparently, when people travel between dimensions, their physical forms are “no longer observable,” which is a quantum mechanics thing, and explaining it involves this whole story about a cat that’s in a box and is simultaneously alive and dead until you open the box, and it gets seriously complicated. Never ask a physicist about that cat.”
Marguerite is a capable and easily likeable heroine and, as the story is told in first-person narrator from her point of view, that’s something of a relief as, if she’d been more annoying, I suspect the overall story would have been less likeable. Marguerite forms one corner of a (perhaps inevitable) love triangle, the other points of which are Paul and Theo, the grad students of Marguerite’s parents. I actually found Theo to be pretty reckless and unbearable, but I suspect this is largely because I enjoy Paul’s characterisation (tall, dark, Russian man of few words) a lot more than Theo’s. But the real heart of the story (for me) was found in Marguerite’s parents, the famous scientists, and particularly in Dr Henry Caine, a stuffy Englishman scientist who allowed the audiobook narrator to try her hand at a “British accent”, something which especially amused me.
“It’s comfort enough to know that there are infinite worlds. Infinite possibilities. Now I know somewhere, somehow, Sophia and I had our chance.”
Although the book sees Marguerite jump through different parallel universes, into many different versions of herself, and into imaginative future dystopias (including one where sea levels have risen dramatically), the setting which I enjoyed the most was the historical fiction one – that of Tsarist Russia, with Marguerite masquerading as a Duchess and Paul as one of her personal guard. Given the book cover, it’s unsurprising that Russia forms a large section of the narrative, but I must say I particularly enjoyed the version of both Paul and Henry Caine that is present in the Russian storyline. Marguerite’s father takes on a mentoring and professorial role in that reality, meaning that the bond formed between Marguerite and Henry is slightly different to their “real” selves and I very much enjoyed seeing this relationship develop over the course of her time in Russia.
“Now I know that grief is a whetstone that sharpens all your love, all your happiest memories, into blades that tear you apart from within.”
The Russian storyline is also where the majority of the romance happens (surprise surprise), and I had to admit I was completely taken in by the love story that unfolds. I may or may not have squeed at certain points during the tale. I must point out at this stage, however, that I think readers should look at this romance in a more critical light than the book does; there are obvious questions of the morality and ethics behind doing things with a body which you are inhabiting (almost ‘borrowing’ for a time) but which does not belong to you and so cannot consent to what is happening. It’s something to be aware of – the morality aspect is alluded to in a different context later, but I don’t think it’s interrogated enough for my liking, because it’s masked by the romance plot. Regardless, I very much enjoyed the Russian plot and romance, I just wish it was more critically looked at by the characters involved.
“Mathematics or Fate: Whatever that force is that keeps bringing us together in world after world, it’s powerful. Undeniable. But I still don’t know whether that force means my salvation or my destruction.”
In conclusion, A Thousand Pieces of You is a compelling first book in a promised trilogy charting an imagined multiverse in which characters can inhabit new bodies and new personalities. However, the surprise value in the book lies in the moral and ethical questions which the book only teases – it can be enjoyed purely on the surface as a fun YA sci-fi race through multiple realities with a healthy helping of romance on the side, but it can also be interrogated more critically in order to ask questions relating to consciousness vs physicality, experience vs memory, and (ultimately) the value and the cost of scientific discovery and innovation in a device such as the Firebird.
“Every form of art is another way of seeing the world. Another perspective, another window. And science –that’s the most spectacular window of all. You can see the entire universe from there.”