Marguerite Caine’s physicist parents are known for their radical scientific achievements. Their most astonishing invention: the Firebird, which allows users to jump into parallel universes, some vastly altered from our own. But when Marguerite’s father is murdered, the killer—her parent’s handsome and enigmatic assistant Paul—escapes 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. Soon she discovers the truth behind her father’s death is more sinister than she ever could have imagined.
A Thousand Pieces of You explores a reality where we witness the countless other lives we might lead in an amazingly intricate multiverse, and ask whether, amid infinite possibilities, one love can endure.
Whoo! I did it! You have to understand, I was terrified to start this book. None of my canaries had read it, so I had no way of knowing if it would be any good, and just LOOK at that cover. What would happen to my heart if the book didn’t live up to that beauty? But here I am, alive and whole on the other side of this book, so let’s get down to business.
We leap into the story just as our protagonist, Marguerite Caine, lands in another universe. All we know at first is that 1) she’s in an alternate universe, 2) she’s never been here before, 3) her father is dead, 4) she’s come with someone named Theo, and 5) they’ve come to kill someone named Paul Markov. Actually, we learn far more than that, and I was pretty impressed by how neatly the author was able to settle the foundation of the story in only three pages.
The foundation in its totality is this: Marguerite’s parents are two genius scientists who have made a device called the Firebird that allows interdimensional travel. Only energy can travel through dimensions, so a person travels via consciousness—leaving their own bodies and popping into their alters in whichever dimension they land. Marguerite’s father was recently murdered by his intern, Paul Markov, who then stole the Firebird and disappeared into another dimension. Hungry for revenge, Marguerite and her parents’ other intern, Theo, cobbled together two older Firebird prototypes to hunt Paul down.
Dimension-hopping! Betrayal! Murder! Revenge! Quantum physics! By the end of only three pages, I was squealing like the Geico pig.
ATPoY can be split into four parts, each corresponding to the different universes Marguerite visits. In addition to being distinct in tone, each section also has its own focus, strengths, weaknesses, and each contrast differently with our own world. The first part, which I call Grief London, was the slowest of all the sections for me. This is the world Marguerite leaps into in those first three pages. Once Marguerite steadies herself, she finds she’s in a high-tech version of London where people communicate via holograms and walk around with personal tasers strapped to their wrists. It was loads of fun to explore how this world was different from our own. (For instance, in this one, The Beatles never got together and The Gears are the favored retro band.) However, much of the exploration is shunted aside in favor of flashbacks to Marguerite’s life back home. I learn about Marguerite’s room and how she decorated it, how her parents met, what life was like growing up with a house full of interns, what it was like to be an art restoration major in a family of geniuses, and so on. While I get that this information is important in understanding our protagonist and helps illuminate the personal differences between the dimensions, it absolutely killed the momentum for me. I wanted to soar through the plot, to catch that high-speed bullet train on the hunt for murderous, backstabbing Paul, but instead felt like I was trying to skateboard up a hill. Every time I picked up a bit of speed, another memory scene would drag me backwards.
That being said, this book is more introspective than what I was expecting, but once I adjusted my sights, I was okay. Really, though I was hungering for more big-picture comparisons and chase scenes in the beginning of the story, Marguerite’s internal musings made sense. Her father was just murdered. The family interns—who functioned both as surrogate older brothers and, at times, chaste crushes—were at odds with one on the run for murder and the other on the hunt. At one point, Marguerite starts crying over her newly acquired British accent and I wanted to hug her. Ms. Gray plays with this by making London even dirtier and grayer than our own London. Marguerite’s life here is bleak—a whirl of parties, drugs, and a stark home life with only her resentful aunt for company. In Grief London, we get to see just how broken Marguerite’s life is from Paul’s betrayal. If Marguerite’s real home is Norman Rockwell, this home is a charcoal sketch.
After Grief London, Paul leaps to Romance Russia with Marguerite and Theo in hot pursuit. Yo, guys. YO. I’m gonna stop describing each leap in detail after this because of spoilers, but THIS RIGHT HERE is where I locked in on the story. Grief London is pretty standard futuristic fare with its blingy gadgets and minor changes, but Romance Russia really takes the alternate part of alternate dimensions to heart. It’s FANTASTIC. Also, the “romance” part of Romance Russia is to die for. It’s this delicious, all-in doomed romance with class barriers and fingers touching briefly and ugggggghhhhhhhh. I can’t give details, but I could NOT put the book down once I reached Romance Russia. Great heavens to Betsy.
But never fear, Romance Russia isn’t only about kissytimes. In this section, Marguerite also has to unwrap discussions about fate and destiny as they interrelate with chance, continues struggling with her grief over her poor father, and experience the pain that comes with finding a home in more than one dimension. This is also the dimension that introduces Vladimir and Katya, so it’s automatically my favorite.
If, for some reason, hot and feelsy romance isn’t your thing, just hold tight. The next two dimensions are where the action ramps up. Marguerite has to deal with emotional fallout from Romance Russia, but can only devote so much attention to her heart as the mystery surrounding her father’s death begins to clear. This is where you get car chases and secret phone calls and 1984 surveillance creepers. As with Grief London and Romance Russia, the author keeps one dimension familiar and comfortable to focus on concepts, while the other is a wilder ride into speculation.
The whole book raised so many questions for me about alternate realities and choices and destiny and the nature of love. I especially liked that the plot laid out the feasibility of dimension-hopping in a logical manner with realistic boundaries to keep the leaps from becoming too fanciful. So excellent. I CANNOT WAIT for the sequel and will probably push this book on so many people that y’all will get sick of me. That being said, however, there are some issues I need to bring up.
1. Missing internal logic
For instance, when Marguerite first lands in Grief London, she scrawls “KILL PAUL MARKOV” on a poster so that if her memory fades, her alter-self will remember what needs to be done. Then she closes her eyes and prepares to fade away… But why? We learn later that Firebirds are equipped with a “reminder” setting, so all Marguerite has to do is hit the reminder if she feels she’s fading, and she’ll be jolted back. The scrawled note makes for an epic visual opener but doesn’t make much sense to me in the long run.
Also, Marguerite makes a big deal about making Theo teach her how to use the Firebird to destroy a person’s consciousness. It’s a trick way to kill someone because a) lots of steps, b) you have to be right on top of them to kill someone, etc. So why not just kill Paul in an old-fashioned way? Shoot him, stab him, push him in front of a bus, poison his soup, hit him over the head, something. The only thing I can think of is that Marguerite didn’t want her alternate self to have to deal with the fallout of being a murderer once she’s returned to her own body, but since that isn’t explicitly stated, I’m left to believe that this is just a glaringly big plot hole that was glossed over.
2. The pacing
Even outside of Grief London, there are some pacing issues. I liked that we spent a good chunk of time in each dimension, but I wish each stop had been more action-based. Instead, Marguerite does a crap-ton of waiting, which isn’t compelling at all. Let’s wait for Theo (and go get drunk!), or wait for the colonel to return (and attend lessons!), or wait for Theo again (and talk about storms?) Grief London was the worst, honestly, because Ms. Jonesing For Revenge over here decides to keep up appearances by attending galas and going clubbing rather than, I don’t know, doing research or hunting down her father’s killer(!), and it totally kills the mood. Priorities, woman!
3. The romance
First, let me lay to rest concerns about a love triangle. There is no love triangle. Actually, depending on how you look at it, there’s either a typical love couple or anything up to a love… hold on, let me count… love hexagon? But no love triangle. Here’s the thing. At no point is Marguerite in love with Theo and Paul at the same time. Doesn’t happen. Back before her father’s death, she was interested in both of them, since they both live in her home, are handsome, and are close to her age, but once the story starts, she is only truly interested in one at a time. Which one she’s interested in depends on 1) which boy she’s with, and 2) which one is acting in a trustworthy manner, because both boys do some sketchy things and then try to prove their trustworthiness later. On the flip side, they are jumping through different dimensions where the other consciences fade in and out, so Marguerite isn’t always dealing with the same version of Paul and/or Theo. All the different Theos, for instance, are similar through nature but not nurture, so they’re technically different people altogether. It’s actually a pretty twisty conundrum that ends up reflecting back on the reader—I say I love so-and-so, but do I as the reader treasure him or that version of him that charmed me (and Marguerite) in the last dimension? And if the boy in question loves Marguerite, does he love our Marguerite or the Marguerite he thinks she is from her own dimension?
So that’s that, but the problem I had was with timing. Everything happens too dang soon. In Grief London, our very first dimension, Marguerite has a (frankly, very hot) kiss with one of the boys. It was pretty spicy, and yet the scene didn’t have the emotional resonance it should, because I hadn’t really met this boy yet. Sure, we’d already sat through Marguerite’s multiple flashbacks, but that was in this past. I haven’t met this boy right now in real time for more than a chapter or two, so I couldn’t empathize with Marguerite’s emotions. Then, in another dimension, Marguerite and a boy (same one or different one, I won’t tell) spend several weeks together and suddenly are in True, Everlasting Love. Was it compelling to read? Yes, I’ll admit I got swept away. Was it believable and/or compelling in the long-term? Not so much. Once a couple starts throwing out declarations of undying love, there’s not much more to explore, at least in my opinion, unless the author really does want to take a turn into Love Triangle Turmoil. (Bleck.) I wish the author had held off on the fireworks for a bit longer and instead focused on the slow burn.
4. The twists
I guessed them all. All of them. Not that this is a total strike against the author. I have a bad habit of guessing twists far in advance, and sometimes that only heightens my enjoyment. (This was the case with two of the twists, one which I dreaded and broke my heart, and one which I was very proud of myself for guessing ahead of time.) It’s just something that needs to be noted for those as hard to fool as myself.
So there you have it. I made it through the book that terrified me with its beauty, and thank goodness, it earned its beauty! There are some issues that kept it from earning higher marks, but overall its a story that I look forward to continuing.
Favorite Non-Spoilery Quotes:
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.
“If your mother had any idea we were talking about this, she’d skin me alive. I’m not being metaphorical about that. I think she could actually, literally skin me. She gets these wild eyes sometimes. There’s Cossack blood in her; I’d bet anything.”
Now I know grief is a whetstone that sharpens all your love, all your happiest memories, into blades that tear you apart from within. Something has been torn out from inside me that will never be filled up, not ever, no matter how long I live. They say “time heals,” but even now, less than a week after my father’s death, I know that’s a lie. What people really mean is that eventually you’ll get used to the pain. You’ll forget who you were without it; you’ll forget what you looked like without your scars.
Is he right, about my creating excitement where I can? Even being melodramatic?
You went on a half-baked vengeance quest against Paul using a totally untested experimental device, I think. He might possibly have a point.
Points Added For: Discussion of different types of intelligence, Marguerite not being allowed to put herself down for being an art major instead of a scientists, Paul, Theo, Vladimir, Katya, making me want to stay in Romance Russia, SCIENCE, really distinct dimensions, the recurring themes and how they tie into destiny/fate, Marguerite’s grief, Theo and Paul’s bromance, protective boys, Marguerite giving a boy what-for for letting her down.
Points Subtracted For: The lack of internal logic in places, plot holes, wonky pacing, rushed romance, being able to guess the twists, generid bad guy.
Good For Fans Of: All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, alternate dimensions, relatively simple quantum physics (nothing too hardcore), protective boys, Tsarist Russia, kissing.
Notes For Parents: Drinking, drugs, language, kissing, off-page sex.
Note: I received a digital review copy of this title from the publisher for review consideration.