Genre: fantasy (science fantasy) (middle grade)
Queer Representation: nonbinary / gender choice, cis gay, cis lesbian
Rating: 5 stars
It should come as no surprise that I am a fan of the Dissolutionverse by William C. Tracy. His previous three novellas, TUNING THE SYMPHONY, MERCHANTS AND MAJI, and THE SOCIETY OF TWO HOUSES are all excellent stand alones and his main book, THE SEEDS OF DISSOLUTION, is science fantasy at its very best (with solid queer content).
JOURNEY TO THE TOP OF THE NETHER is Tracy’s first foray into middle grade, but despite my unfamiliarity with these books I wasn’t about to miss out on part of the universe. I’m really glad I took the chance.
On her first ever exploratory mission with her famous explorer mother, Natina gets a chance to climb the mysterious and impenetrable Nether walls (those who are familiar with the world will remember that nothing can cut the Nether, so the presence of two Systems Beasts that can poke holes in it is quite a feat indeed!). They aim to finally find the ceiling of the Nether, but instead find answers readers will have had since the very beginning of the series.
The Nether is the… location that all maji can make portals to without having first been there. As such it serves as a sort of communal gathering point for any species in the galaxy with magi–those who can use the Symphony to do miraculous things (music-based magic system). The Nether is neither planet nor spaceship, and so a book that really looks at what the Nether is, instead of what it isn’t, was really delightful to read.
Natina’s friend in the book is Avi, a child around her age who has yet to decide their gender:
“Sorry for asking, but are you…more like your mom or your dad?” My new friend looked a lot more like Mira, but didn’t have the same kind of softness their mother had…
Fortunately, Avi seemed to understand exactly what I was talking about. “I haven’t decided yet,” they said, “but I’ve always thought it’s better to be smart and sneaky, like Mater.”
Avi has more than two choices, of course, making the world even more inclusive. In terms of sexuality, Natina herself comes from a culture of polyamory (and same-sex couples), which is not uncommon across the species in the book. Fans of the series will remember that Sam, the main protag in THE SEEDS OF DISSOLUTION, ends up dating both a boy and a girl by the end of the book. Hand Dancer’s gender fluidity was also a highlight of the previous book.
And of course, like all Dissolutionverse books, there are interior illustrations and they are lovely. Really, the illustrations always mean the books find a spot on my shelves for long term storage. I adore having a few illustrations in my SFF books, especially of alien species. Tracy used a different artist in this book than in some of his previous, but the quality is the same.