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March 12, 2024

Those Beyond the Wall by Micaiah Johnson ~ a Review

by MK French

There is the walled Wiley City and neighboring desert community of Ashtown, which Wiley City has tried to beat into submission. The Emperor rules Ashtown tightly and relies on Scales in her roles as mechanic or fighter to keep people in line. An invisible killer is on the loose between both places, so Scales must now work with a partner from Ashtown and a scientist from the City to track down the killer. Answers will dredge up secrets not just of the City, but about Scales herself.

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book cover of science fiction novel Those Beyond the Wall by Micaiah Johnson
March 2024; Del Rey; 978-0593497500
audio, ebook, print (384 pages); science fiction

In a world with a sharp divide between the rich of Wiley City and the poor of Ashtown, stories carry multiple layers of meaning. Scales is angry, and her origin is told and retold in different ways. She is sent to investigate the deaths, which had occurred in both cities and has complicated relationships with the people closest to her. She wants to be needed, to be important without being in the spotlight. The deaths are troublesome, with bodies crumpled and barely recognizable. It turns out to be the precursor to travel between dimensions, with people trying to enter their world, but unable to do so if there's already a version of them present. 

If that sounds vaguely familiar, it's because multiversal travel was the heart of Micaiah Johnson's first novel, The Space Between Worlds. Don't worry if you haven't, this makes sense without reading that book because Scales doesn't know all the details anyway. Nik Nik is the Emperor, and he and his runners had been present before. Cara and Dell are back, but in bit parts compared to the first novel. It's ten years later, and Cara has a strained relationship with her sister Esther. We see more clearly what it's like living beyond the wall surrounding the city, not just the flashes when Cara visited her family before. The trauma of living in Ashtown on a regular basis, of being in the shadow of privileged Wiley City, is not an easy life to live. There's hardship of different types in Wiley City, different abuses, and things to fear. Scales plays off this fear, and would rather fight than give in to softer emotions. She must be the tough runner, the enforcer, to protect the secrets in Ashtown. 

We have a lot of action as the secrets slowly unfold. There are also emotional beats as well, even though Scales doesn't like to acknowledge anything but anger. This is her way of dealing with past trauma, and it influences how she sees the world and reacts to it. Ashtown shaped her, and Ashtown has her loyalty. Seeing it through her eyes, we understand why it's home, and why it's worth saving. 

Buy Those Beyond the Wall at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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