Review: Tandem

Tandem: The Many Worlds Trilogy, Book I by Anna Jarzab. Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House. 2013. Reviewed from ARC.

The Plot: Sasha Lawson is an ordinary teenager. She lives with her grandfather; is a good girl; has friends.

Princess Juliana is rich and privileged, and facing an arranged marriage for the good of her kingdom.

When Juliana disappears, the powers that be fear the resulting chaos.

Sasha and Juliana live in parallel worlds; they are alternate versions of each other, identical in looks, but two different people.

Sasha is kidnapped, taken back to Juliana’s world, convinced to pretend to be Juliana to keep the peace. Being a princess isn’t easy; being the person responsible for keeping a fragile peace isn’t easy; and pretending isn’t easy. The longer Sasha is Juliana — the longer she pretends — the more she becomes connected to the people of Juliana’s world.

Where do her loyalties lie? Where does Sasha belong?

The Good: The whole idea of alternate universes is one I find intriguing. Someone who looks like you, but isn’t you? It’s like the ultimate alternate universe fan fiction — what if you were you, but you were a princess? Or, for the princess longing for normality, what if you were you but a regular student?

Sasha’s world is ours. Or, at least in this volume, appears to be our world. One can never be sure in science fiction!

So, not that Sasha’s world is boring — sorry, Sasha — but Juliana’s world being so different is what interested me more. Juliana is a princess of the United Commonwealth of Columbia. Long story short: the American Revolution didn’t end there the way it did here. The UCC is, roughly speaking, the eastern half of the United States; the western half is also a kingdom, called Farnham. Juliana’s arranged marriage is to the heir of that kingdom. While that may be the place our two worlds branch out from each other, the existence of alternates — identical people in each universe — it’s not simple. Sasha and Juliana may look alike, but they don’t have the same parents (or, rather, their parents are not alternates of each other). Other alternates exist; they are not unique.

I loved discovering all the things where there world was different from ours. My favorite elements of Tandem were Sasha’s negotiation of this brave new world.

Tandem includes some of the science and physics of alternate worlds, how they work, how someone travels from one world to the other. The UCC is more advanced in their scientific progress, because they have figured out all of this while our world, well, it’s still theory. While the UCC is more ahead in some areas, not so much in others.

Since it’s through Sasha that we learn about the UCC, what the reader learns is limited to what she is told or what she discovers. Juliana is her father’s heir, and there is a complicated story involving her father, mother, and stepmother that means she doesn’t get along with her stepmother or half siblings. Sasha, without Juliana’s emotional baggage and history, sees them differently. There are at least two threats to the UCC: a revolutionary group called Libertas, and the neighboring country of Farnham. Here, too, Sasha’s ignorance serves her well. When she meets Prince Callum, she’s more open to him, and his friendship (and maybe more), than Juliana would be.

Much as I love reading about the British Royalty, it’s not the government I wish we had. So, going in, my sympathies are with the group Libertas. (Anyone watching the time travel mystery series Continuum on Syfy? I have the same thing, there, in a slightly different context. My sympathies are to the future revolutionaries, not the future corporations.) I’m not sure if that’s me as a reader, or not, but I’m really curious how this plays out over the trilogy. The politics, and who is good and who is bad, is muddied and unclear, all the more so because Sasha has such limited context to put anything in. It was a bit frustrating at times, and I reminded myself that this a trilogy so, of course, there would be unanswered questions. And, of course, the most important thing is not the politics of the UCC but Sasha’s own survival.

One last thing: Sasha is forcibly taken into Juliana’s world and made to take her place. The theory is, the marriage with Prince Callum has to go forward; and the government is so shaky that the heir missing could cause upset. The person who does this is a young member of the King’e Elite Service, Thomas. Let’s just say, without any spoilers, that Sasha ends up being more willing to forgive Thomas and his reasons than I am. I have a feeling that, as the trilogy continues, I’ll have to get over my feelings towards Thomas.

Other reviews: Alexa Loves Books; MegaMad4Books; Alice Marvels.

4 thoughts on “Review: Tandem

  1. i found this one to be an interesting read too and am looking forward to seeing where things go in the next volume. The political machinations were definitely my favorite part of the story.

    (And yes to Thomas. I sympathized with the position he was in as a soldier taking orders and felt he grew a lot as a character, but Sasha got over his role in her kidnapping and imprisonment way too fast.)


    1. Brandy, the politics have raised a lot of questions and I’m eager to find out where Jarzab takes it. The notes I took on this book were less than kind about Thomas — words I can’t use in this blog! I sympathized with him as Thomas, eventually — but don’t want a Sasha/Thomas true love.


  2. Great review. I loved the premise of this one but couldn’t quite get into it the last time I picked it up. (Maybe it’s time to try again.) I agree though that Thomas is a problematic character in some respects.

    Have you seen the movie The Prisoner of Zenda? Tandem reminded me so much of that movie that I had a very hard time reading/seeing Tandem as an entity of its own instead of a kind of retelling of that movie plot.


    1. I haven’t seen The Prisoner of Zenda; I’ll add it to my list.

      Let me know if you give TANDEM another chance & if you change your mind.


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