Title: Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird #2)
Author: Claudia Gray
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication date: 3rd November 2015
Rating: ★★.5 / ★★★ – depending on what day you catch me!
Ten Thousand Skies Above You, the second of the Firebird trilogy, by Claudia Gray was a good continuation of the story and a surprisingly, complex sequel to follow after A Thousand Pieces of You. There were elements of the story I loved, and some that felt like pure filler. I keep emphasising “story”—and there’s a reason for that.
Just like A Thousand Pieces of You, I adored the story of this book; I love the revelations we’re given, I love the game-changer at the end of the book that sets up a very, very interesting possibility for the dynamic in the third book.
But, I did not love Marguerite. I feel the girl we knew from the first book is gone. Where? I’m not sure.
We find ourselves plunged back into our time-travel-but-not adventures, with Marguerite fleeing a crowd bent on accusing her family (the scientists Caine) of witchcraft. Hold up—science as magic? We must be in the dark ages or something. Oh, we are. It’s an exciting start to the book, setting a pace that… is never truly realised thereafter. We skip between exposition of what happened before she began travelling again, whilst vaguely taking tiny steps forward into the rest of the subsequent story. The book kicks off rather frantically in a reimagining of medieval Italy, where Marguerite finds herself in hot water whilst on the search for Paul (again…).
As with the first book, Marguerite is forced to do more dimension hopping. Except this time, revenge is far from her mind. This time, she’s trying to save people. Both Theo and Paul need help and, as ever, being the perfect traveller that she is, Marguerite is the only one who can do anything of use.
Unfortunately this time, Paul is little more than a plot device. The reason for Marguerite to travel. It’s a disservice to Paul, because there’s so much character there, if you scratch beneath the surface. I wanted to get to know Paul more. He’s not the most fleshed-out of characters in the first book, and I had hoped for an opportunity to see more of him here. For some reason, we’re denied this. This should have been a book of Paul and Marguerite travelling together. But moreover, it’s a disservice to Theo, because, through Marguerite’s blinkeredness in Paul’s direction, she completely erases Theo. Never mind the fact that she is convinced that, essentially due to the behaviour of another Theo, her Theo can’t be all good.
Well, newsflash, Marguerite: nobody is all good. This, unfortunately becomes something that our once seemingly well-rounded Marguerite develops some interesting double-standards with. The second someone other than herself does one thing in one dimension, then it must immediately mean that that little fragment of darkness is lurking inside them, because they are essentially all the same people, even though the very nature of the plot and the formula makes it painfully clear that they’re not. People are made by how they live, both the sum of and more than the sum of their experiences, choices and how they have grown throughout their lives.
Except her, of course: she readily forgets the party-girl Meg from the Londonverse, and, refuses to really acknowledge the damage she did in the Russiaverse; instead, using the universe as a refuge during the story, where she literally just barges into her other self’s life (again) and remains there as she pleases (again). Sure, she realises how much she screwed up, but if she was truly sorry and realised just how violating her presence was, she would not have used the universe as if she had the right to; she would have left immediately. But she didn’t. She didn’t want to leave, so she took the right to stay. Unfortunately, Marguerite has selfish sides of herself that turn into hypocrisy through her complete disregard of them, yet her willingness to point them out in others. Such as Theo, and, through this book, others around her, too.
Furthermore, in each world she travels to, Marguerite basically commandeers the lives of Alternative Marguerite and does as she pleases, constantly trying to engineer herself closer to Paul, whether or not she is with Paul in said dimension. It’s selfish and entitled and completely erasing of what her other selves’ lives are like. It’s presumptuous and, when she lands in dimensions where she is actively seeing someone else, completely disregarding and erasing of anyone else’s feelings. Except her own, of course.
Where is my Marguerite gone? Because this isn’t the girl I loved.
And the worlds we travelled to, so varied and exciting in the first book, have become random and even pale in comparison. Where’s my world where Theo and Paul are together? Where’s my world where Marguerite is a lesbian? Where is my world where she and Josie hate one another? Where’s my world where Marguerite doesn’t get on with her increasingly-oh-so-perfect parents? Where’s my world where she has different parents; a different family; a stepparent; adoptive parents; something different? Where Marguerite is biracial; where she’s different? Where is my world where Marguerite and her immediate surroundings aren’t so straight and white and completely unrealistic?
You can’t begin to play with the accepted notion of “infinite possibilities” if you never actually think outside the box, never think outside of straight-white-middle-class. And that’s all we ever, ever see and it’s impossibly dull by this point. Here, we have this exciting plot, far-reaching and overarching—especially with the revelations in this book itself—and yet we tread the same sort of ground, again and again.
Couple this with Marguerite’s selfish erasure of other people’s feelings and her blindness to her own faults, and we have a rather unlikable protagonist in place of our determined, thoughtful and relatable Marguerite. She can so easily flee to another universe where she doesn’t belong and has no need whatsoever to go to “take time away” from an event where someone was hurt by someone she doubted had that kind of violence inside them, when in the first book she was the one hell bent on revenge on Paul.
Never mind the fact that it would be a change to meet Paul and Theo in a universe where one of them wasn’t obsessed with her. That would be good. I know the number of worlds we’ve seen isn’t that high, but that’s precisely my point: you have to make them count.
In addition, the only world in which any manner of different sexuality is mentioned is where a particular character is the bad guy and they sleep with the opposite sex, as well as the same sex (anyone will do!), as a way of hurting more people and not giving a damn. I don’t care if it was accidental: do better. When it’s the only LGBT reference, do better.
I love the plot of these books, I love the formula, the writing, the delivery… but now, I do not like Marguerite. Mostly, her selfishness, her entitled attitude is what finally turned me off towards Marguerite. The fact that she chooses to invade on another of her lives again, entirely by choice and without any fragment of necessity whatsoever, only to go and live in that Marguerite’s shoes for a while, as if staying over in a hotel built for her, even going so far as to willing interact with people in these Alternate Marguerites’ lives (such as a psychiatrist, whom she brazenly uses as a shrink for her own issues instead of just leaving Marguerite to her own life)—just, no.
Furthermore, the topic of grief comes up, however briefly in this book. She immediately acts as though grief is something that will eventually be worked through and isn’t an excuse for rash or selfish behaviour…
Says the girl who toddled off traveling to get revenge on Paul after the assumed death of her father. Everyone else’s grief is uncomfortable and inconvenient for her. And this was a huge, huge, huge issue for me. Our society is pretty shit at dealing with grief (heck, when the only way we can get in touch, as a society, with grief, is through the catharsis of public grief over a shared figure or person, and otherwise grief is something to be shuttered away and not talked about and dealt with alone, that’s messed up) and to have this exact sentiment reflected in a book for younger/more millennial-minded people, that’s not okay with me.
Ultimately, only her feelings ever matter. And worse, only she is a valid Marguerite and only her feelings matter, above all Marguerites.
I wanted so badly to love this book as much as I’d loved A Thousand Pieces of You, which I’d really, really loved. The problem is, I do still really, really like the story. The dimensions, the travel, the newly-revealed stakes and twists and turns—I loved all of it. Just, not the main character.
If you’re someone who can put up with protagonists you can’t stand, in favour of the story you love, then you’ll get along with this sequel just fine. If, like me, Marguerite has become an entirely different person, one you don’t recognize, but you still do love the story… then you’ll manage and you will still probably, like me, read the third book. Only, it won’t be at the top of my TBR list when it does eventually land.
Most of why this book got so low a rating and a rather meh review from me, is entirely down to Marguerite, and a few niggles here and there about things that could have been better. It’s not a terrible book—it’s not even a “meh” book. It’s a book with problems (lowercase; not the big, yicky Problems you really don’t want to find in a book!) and it is lacking in diversity (which, let’s be frank: we shouldn’t even be calling “diversity” as if it’s something special. It should just be called realism), which is something I’m going to start coming down heavily on. Overall, if we’re talking favourably about Ten Thousand Skies Above You, then this was a much-slower paced sequel to what was an exciting, thrilling first book, but a fantastic continuation of the overarching story itself. The ante is upped and things get big, and this is what will keep me reading to the end of the trilogy. But if we’re being candid, then Marguerite almost made me put this book down.