Should You Read The World Gives Way by Marissa Levien?

The cover of The World Gives Way, featuring a woman's silhouette

“Myrra smashed a roach with her bare hand as it crawled along the wall, then recited a small eulogy for the deceased in her head. Perpetual survivors, the roaches had managed to sneak a ride on this world to the next, even when every other bit of cargo had been bleached and catalogued over a century ago.”

– Opening of The World Gives Way

The World Gives Way is a science fiction novel set on a spaceship as large as an entire world. It is the world to the people who live on it, who were all born there and whose families have lived on it for generations. Myrra is a contract worker, one of the unlucky people whose ancestors decided to pay for their passage by pledging themselves and their descendants to something almost like slavery for a full two hundred years. She is looking forward to the day fifty years in the future, when the ship will finally arrive at its destination and she will finally be free. Unfortunately, things take a turn when her wealthy employers reveal a shocking truth: the ship has been damaged beyond repair. It is only a matter of time before they die. When her employers decide to take their own lives rather than face what’s coming, Myrra is left with their infant daughter Charlotte and a mountain of suspicion on her head. No one else knows that the world is ending, and she’s smart enough to know that she will be accused of murder if she stays. Will she be able to find to outrun the law and find a way to escape the damaged ship? Or is she going to die having lived nothing but a miserable life?

I found it refreshing that the strongest relationship in this novel is that between an infant and her adoptive mother. Myrra’s desire to keep and protect Charlotte is both understandable and strong, and yet I haven’t previously read any book that takes such an approach. I also enjoyed the world building, which is especially highlighted as Myrra runs from one beautiful or fascinating location to the next. There’s one city built into the side of a cliff. Another that’s completely underwater. There’s a vast desert made of colored sand from ground up glass and mountains with stained glass built in. It’s incredibly inventive all throughout.

It’s also, however, a bit of a downer. Nearly from the beginning, the omniscient narrator will deliver chapters whose sole purpose is to describe how various parts of the world will be destroyed and what will become of those who once lived there, leaving no uncertainty for the reader about whether the ship could yet be saved. Although the reader can still hold out hope that some of the characters may find an escape, the sense of impending loss hangs heavy over the entire story.

If you like sad books, you may yet enjoy it. I imagine that some people would be very interested in exploring these bittersweet ideas of what a person might do when they know that time is short and everything they know and love is about to be destroyed. For some, it might function as a wakeup call: am I living the life I want to live right now? Others might enjoy it for everything that comes between: the unique character relationships, the thrill of watching Myrra run, the intricate world building. This book has a good mix of both, so, while I found it a bit too existentially depressing to be my cup of tea, other readers may find it hits the spot.

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