The World Gives Way

A Novel


By Marissa Levien

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A Ray Bradbury Prize for Science Fiction, Fantasy & Speculative Fiction Finalist

In a near-future world on the brink of collapse, a young woman born into servitude must seize her own freedom in this glittering debut with a brilliant twist—perfect for fans of Station Eleven, Karen Thompson Walker, and Naomi Alderman.

In fifty years, Myrra will be free.

Until then, she's a contract worker. Ever since she was five, her life and labor have belonged to the highest bidder on her contract—butchers, laundries, and now the powerful, secretive Carlyles.

But when one night finds the Carlyles dead, Myrra is suddenly free a lot sooner than she anticipated—and at a cost she never could have imagined. Burdened with the Carlyles' orphaned daughter and the terrible secret they died to escape, she runs. With time running out, Myrra must come face to face with the truth about her world—and embrace what's left before it's too late.

A sweeping novel with a darkly glimmering heart, The World Gives Way is an unforgettable portrait of a world in freefall, and the fierce drive to live even at the end of it all.

A New York Times Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Novel of 2021

A Fortune Magazine Best Book of 2021

"A staggering marvel."—TheNew York Times

"The World Gives Way has a sweeping world rich in lore and an electric plot."—Brandon Taylor, Booker Prize-nominated author of Real Life




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. Myrra admired their pluck, but Imogene would hate the sight of an insect, and where there was one, there were always more. It was late, nearly three a.m. The roaches liked to explore at night, and Myrra’s room was close to the kitchen.

Myrra retrieved an old rag from her stock of cleaning supplies and wiped off her palm. Then she sat back down on her cot, a lumpy pillow propped behind her back, and resumed writing her letter.

It was strange to be writing with paper and pen, but since Imogene had found Myrra’s tablet last month, Myrra had needed to improvise with other methods of communication. What a row that had been. Myrra had been so careful hiding the tablet, taping it behind the mirror in her room. But there’d been a bad spate of earthquakes lately, and it had fallen out at an ill-timed moment when Imogene was inspecting the room. Marcus never bothered enough to care about that sort of thing, but Imogene was livid. She’d only grown tenser and madder and more controlling in the past year, and as she’d screamed at Myrra, she’d framed the tablet as the ultimate transgression. For her part, Myrra had tried her best not to show her contempt. She still winced thinking of the sound the tablet made when Imogene smashed it against the side of a table, the glass cracking, the screen going irreparably black. Just a thin, flat piece of silicon and metal, but it had been a door to the world for a while. And it had proved so useful when it came to Jake.

Jake had given her the tablet six months ago. She remembered him pressing it into her palm in the alley behind his father’s store. He was so happy to be helping the cause of the contract workers. His hands lingered against hers, and his forefinger stroked her wrist. Light, like a stolen kiss. That was when she knew she had a shot. They’d gotten good use out of that tablet.

Still, no point mourning something that was already gone. There was always another way through a problem. At least a pen was something easy to steal. Paper even easier. Marcus had boxes and boxes of the stuff, and he was terrible at keeping track of everything in his collections. He relied on Myrra for that.

What was important was that Jake liked writing this way. Paper was unique. Antique. Romantic.

Myrra inspected the red welt on her knuckle where the pen pressed against her finger. A pen was such an unfamiliar thing to hold. The first few letters she’d written to Jake had been disastrous to look at: violent slashes of ink darted across the paper, interrupting the shaky letters she tried to form. The pen spun out of her hand every time she thought she had a grip. Eventually she learned to hold it like chopsticks, and things improved from there. The lines of ink were still more jittery than she wanted; nothing compared to the smooth looping cursive she’d seen on some of Marcus’s antique letters and papers.

Myrra wrote with slow care, frequently checking her spelling in one of Marcus’s dictionaries. It was maddening, how long it took. And there was no backspace. Just an ugly scratch to black out the word if you got it wrong. Jake would want her simple, but just simple enough. Misspelled words and bad handwriting would send the wrong message.

Dear Jake. Start slow and familiar, not too mushy. Apologize for not writing sooner. Myrra decided to throw in as many sorrys as she could, to make him feel a little loftier. Tell him you miss him. Ask to see him. Don’t say why. Don’t say I love you, yet.

You have to tease these things out. Add spice to the sauce a little at a time, let it simmer. Patience. Do this right, and where might you be in a year? The first thing Myrra pictured was diamond earrings, long and dangling like exquisite icicles. Imogene had a pair like that. She’d worn them with her blue silk gown at the last state dinner. Myrra pictured a vast bed as wide as it was long with soft mussed sheets. She pictured gold around her finger.

That was Imogene’s world she was seeing. Jake was a grocer’s son. Myrra would get a gold ring, but not the diamonds. At least not right away.

In fifty years, Myrra would be free. The work contract her great-grandmother had signed would finally be fulfilled, and she was meant to be satisfied with that. Hard to imagine how it would feel, really, to be free. In fact, most other contract workers in her generation considered themselves lucky; her mother and her mother’s mother had not lived with that luxury. It was a frequent topic of conversation among her compatriots; everyone had different plans for what they’d do with their futures once their contracts ended. Most were unimaginative. Women she’d worked with in the laundry had talked about opening their own wash-and-fold service shops. Hahn, a boy she ran into now and then at the grocery store, was endlessly talking about the bar he’d open someday. He had it planned down to the prices of the drinks and the music on the stereo. Some who were employed as maids or handymen were planning on keeping the same positions with their host families; all they were looking forward to was a future where they got paid and had proper drinking money.

But Myrra refused to buy into this kind of talk—in fact, she took pride in her dissatisfaction. A butcher she’d once worked for had told her that the good meat farms knew how to keep their animals fat and happy, trusting enough that they’d cheerfully trot toward the slaughterhouse. The law said that in fifty years she’d be free; well, in fifty years she would be dry and creaky with baggy skin and sagging breasts, looking like the old retired whores off Dell Street who still powdered rouge over their spotted faces. She’d have five good years, ten at most, before her body gave out. Five years after a long trudging lifetime of labor. What kind of life was that? She refused to wait and only get what she was given. Not when she was young and Jake was there for the taking.

She continued the letter for a few paragraphs more, keeping the anecdotes light and quick, asking plenty of questions in between. Jake liked it when she was inquisitive. She mentioned a particularly successful dinner party that Imogene had thrown for her political wives’ club. Imogene had been drunker than usual, and the result was that she forgot to critique Myrra on the details of the meal. It was a nice change—lately the household had felt tense, and Myrra wasn’t quite sure why. Both Imogene and Marcus would frequently sink into spells of silence; they’d snap at Myrra unpredictably for any old thing.

But Myrra didn’t want to think about that. She certainly didn’t feel like writing it down in a letter. Instead she described the food. Jake liked that she knew how to cook. She mentioned that Charlotte had been sleeping better—it was a relief, after the latest bout of colic. Myrra wasn’t sure how much Jake cared about Charlotte, but she couldn’t help writing about her. Charlotte was the only good part of her days.

It was a miracle that Charlotte was here at all for Myrra to fawn over. Marcus hated babies—he hated anything messy. There had been months of guilting from Imogene before he finally agreed. It was elegantly done, Myrra had to admit. If Marcus hadn’t gone into the business himself, Imogene could have made a great politician.

“I’m getting older now.” Myrra remembered holding a china tray and watching as Imogene passively yet artfully batted her words over the coffee cups, over the breakfast table, arcing them right over the top of Marcus’s wall-like news tablet barrier so they’d fall right in his lap. “If we don’t try soon, we might never be able to have one.” He would volley back a grunt, or mumble something about stress at work. Finally, after many mornings of similar repetitive banter, Imogene found her kill shot, something to fire straight through the tablet, hammer through his mustache, and knock out his teeth: “Don’t you want to make something that will outlive us? What about your legacy?”

Talk of his manly legacy, his ego, and he was cowed. Imogene won the match.

But once born, Charlotte was treated as an investment by Marcus, and Imogene mostly ignored her in favor of getting her figure back. Myrra knew Charlotte better than anyone, what songs she liked, which cries went with which problem, what you could do to make her giggle.

Maybe this could also be the type of thing Jake liked. Jake seemed like the kind of guy who wanted kids someday.

Myrra ended the letter with a genuine note of thanks for the book that Jake had given her. Another object secretly given in the alley behind the shop, but at this point they’d moved past the quaint brushing of hands. Myrra had shown her appreciation in the most intimate of ways. She knew just how to touch him now.

Myrra mostly stole books from Marcus’s library, but this one was hers to keep. Just as long as Imogene didn’t find it. On reflex, Myrra reached down and let her fingers slip through the slit she’d cut into her mattress. She felt around through the foam batting until she found the rough spine of the book. She pulled it out and cradled it in her palms. It was an old one, with tanned pages and a faded orange cover. But then again, they were all old. Books, like paper, were rare. Marcus had one of the largest collections in New London, but most people only had tablets. It was truly a beautiful, meaningful gift. Jake’s family was well-off, but this was something else. This was an I-love-you gift. An investment gift. The World Is Round, by Gertrude Stein. Myrra had taken to reading five or ten pages each night. It was fun—bouncier than the books she’d swiped from Marcus. Some of those had been terrible slogs, pushing through only a word or a sentence at a time. Tolstoy, Balzac, Joyce. The writing was dense and impossible, and mostly it made her feel stupid. But she kept at it, powered by spite and stubborn force of will. People who got paid read books, so she would read books too.

She opened the book and found the page where she’d left off. “The teachers taught her / That the world was round / That the sun was round / That the moon was round / That the stars were round / And that they were all going around and around / And not a sound.”

One section in, the words began to rearrange and swim. Myrra’s eyes were heavy.

Myrra squinted to see the wooden clock under the amber lamplight. Imogene, with her shrewd touch, had snagged the clock along with forty other pieces in a wholesale antiques buy, but it broke in half after a bad fall from a tall shelf. Imogene let her keep the pieces, and with a little glue, pliers, and wire, Myrra had managed to get it ticking again. Myrra liked analog clocks—reading their faces felt like deciphering code. Little hand pointing to the right, and long one pointing straight down: three thirty now. Too late (too early?) to be fighting sleep.

Fluffing out the pillow lumps, she closed her eyes and curled up on her side. She was just starting to feel warm under the blankets when she heard the comm box ring out. Myrra sat up with a shock, looking at the speaker on the wall near the door. Imogene was calling. Probably the baby was fussing. Poor little Charlotte, stuck with such a cold mother. Maybe her colic hadn’t gone away after all. Myrra groaned as she slid her arms into a nubbly blue robe and her feet found slippers. She walked over and pressed the red button on the comm box.

“Should I heat up a bottle?” Myrra asked.

“No—no, Charlotte’s fine. I just need your help with… something. Could you just—could you come to the terrace, please?” Imogene’s voice sounded high and frail—as if she had spontaneously reverted to being five years old. Had she been sleepwalking again? She’d gone through a good bout of ghostly hallway strolls when she was pregnant, but all that went away when Charlotte was born.

“Ma’am, can I ask if you took your sleeping pill this evening?” Myrra tried to keep her tone measured—not good to shock a person who was still asleep.

“Jesus Christ, I’m lucid, I’m awake. Can you just get up here, please?” That sounded more like Imogene.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Myrra considered rifling through the mound of laundry in the corner to find the cleanest dress in the bunch, but the snap of Imogene’s voice still reverberated through the room. Go for speed over presentability at this point, and stick to the robe and slippers. Myrra tucked the nubbled folds higher and closer around her neck. Fifty floors up at this time of the morning, the terrace was bound to be damp.

Myrra slipped out of her room, pushing open the door and easing it closed behind her. The door was an intricate and beautiful object, carved and inlaid walnut with a sculpted brass handle. The rest of her room was simple and bare, but the door had to present itself on the exterior side as well as the interior. Myrra’s room was on the bottom floor, in a dark corner behind the main staircase. It wasn’t likely a guest would find their way back there, but just in case, she still got a good door.

Imogene and Marcus Carlyle’s penthouse was a three-story feat of opulence, with sweeping staircases, vaulted ceilings, marble floors, and antique lead-glass skylights. This amount of living space in a city as packed as New London was exceedingly rare, and by showing the penthouse off as often as possible, the Carlyles were able to provide an easy, nonverbal reminder that they had secured a permanent place at the top of the food chain.

Rushing away from her room, Myrra paused for a moment at the bottom of the stairs, and her face fell briefly in anticipation of the climb. The master bedroom was on the top floor. Most people would have put in an elevator, but Marcus loved antiques, and he demanded authenticity.

But Imogene was waiting. Myrra took another breath, shook some energy into her body, and headed up. Her hand slid along the polished wood of the banister. Before coming to the Carlyle house, Myrra had never encountered real wood, but here it was all over. This had been poached from an English estate in the old world. Other woodwork on other floors was made from a darker wood, almost black, and full of labyrinth-like geometric knots that made Myrra’s eyes cross. Marcus had told her once that these came from Morocco. England. Morocco. New York. Art Deco. Bozart. These names never meant anything to Myrra, but she usually just let him talk, trying to absorb what she could. Knowledge was useful, even if it was snippets of antiquarian trivia. Marcus was apt to brag about origins and provenances given the slightest provocation.

As she passed by a row of bedrooms between staircases, she lightened her step and slowed down just a touch, avoiding any creak in the floorboards. Lately Imogene and Marcus had been sleeping in separate bedrooms, with Marcus taking up residence on the second floor. Myrra wasn’t sure if this was a cause of all the tension she’d felt between them or just another symptom of it. The whole thing filled Myrra with worry, though she couldn’t pinpoint any real reason for it. Why should she care if Marcus and Imogene had marital problems? They’d never been a happy couple, exactly. This latest separation meant nothing. Myrra didn’t see a light on behind any of the bedroom doors, but that didn’t mean Marcus was sleeping. Marcus was an insomniac at the best of times. Over this period he’d barely slept at all.

Marcus’s behavior had become increasingly erratic and mercurial, with him breaking into frantic bouts of chittering laughter in silent rooms, then suddenly throwing objects against the ornately papered walls in a screaming rage. More than once in the past month, he’d reached out to Myrra in an abrupt motion while she was cleaning or setting down a plate, gripping her wrist or arm a little too tight, jerking her closer to his face. Then he would come back to himself and let her go, usually with an offhand comment: she hadn’t dusted something right, or the meal was undercooked. His eyes were wild and bloodshot, their focus imprecise.

Marcus had never been all that intimidating to Myrra before. Despite his insistence on stairs, he had never developed much in the way of muscle mass. Neither fat nor thin, Marcus had skin with the pale, yeasty quality of raw dough and babyish fine hair that pasted itself to his head. But lately he’d lost weight, and his body was becoming what could best be described as wiry—not just for his sudden thinness, but because now Marcus seemed constantly, electrically tense and poised to spark at any moment.

Over this time, Myrra had frequently looked to Imogene to see if she noticed the change, but Imogene never commented. Mostly she stared off into space, lost in her own thoughts. Thank God Myrra had Charlotte to pay attention to. The rest of the family belonged in a madhouse.

Just at the top of the third-floor staircase was Marcus’s study. There was an amber light emanating from the crack under the door. She could smell his cigar smoke. Myrra could feel the pressure of Imogene waiting for her, but she eased her pace further, keeping her footfalls as slow and dull as drips in a sink. She imagined him in there, poring over parliamentary strategy, or perhaps already spinning it for the morning broadcast. From observing Marcus, Myrra had learned that news from the government never came in blunt, clear bursts; there were stairsteps to the truth.

From behind the door, she could hear him pacing. Myrra held her breath.

When she’d gone in there yesterday with Marcus’s afternoon tea (“It’s still important to observe English customs,” he often said), his desk had been riddled with stacks of tablets, some depicting charts with plummeting downward curves, others with tightly regimented words darkly marching across each screen. Myrra secretly practiced her reading while pouring him tea; there were lots of good complex phrases to untangle, like Yearly Decline Tracking and Integrity and Stability Projections. Marcus was standing over them, huffing, with sweat stains murking out from the creases in his arms. Myrra had gambled on his patience and asked about the charts. Sometimes Marcus liked to play paternal and explain things to her.

“Oh, it’s just our downfall,” he said with a thin giggle, but then his eyes began to well up, even as he was still forcing out laughter. His hand twitched and he spilled tea all over the tablets. Without reacting, he walked out of the room in a trance, leaving Myrra to clean up the mess. Myrra hadn’t known how to react, but it had left her uneasy.

Once she was out of earshot of the study, Myrra rushed the rest of the way to the master bedroom. When there was no one to entertain, Imogene would often spend days in here, avoiding the endless stairs by having things brought to her in bed. Now the bed was empty, as was Charlotte’s bassinet. Maybe Charlotte needed feeding after all. Myrra couldn’t understand why Imogene would behave so strangely about it. Nobody in this house was sleeping, apparently.

The terrace was adjacent to the master suite of the penthouse. She looked around at the chairs, chaises, and tables. It was large enough for Imogene to throw the occasional rooftop party. The floor was laid out in stunning patterned tiles that retained heat when the sun shone on it, but now, in the dark, they were cold enough that Myrra felt it through her slippers. The damp of early morning seeped in through her robe, through her skin, into her bones.

Myrra didn’t see Imogene at first. She raised her head to look at the city skyline, and that was when she spotted her. The terrace was bordered by a cement wall a little over a meter high that acted as a railing to keep people safe from the drop below. Imogene was standing on top of that wall, with Charlotte in her arms.

Adrenaline flooded Myrra’s system, lasered her thoughts into focus. Charlotte. What was she doing holding Charlotte up there? Charlotte looked cold—Imogene didn’t seem cold at all. Imogene didn’t seem to care much about where she was standing. She hadn’t seen Myrra yet. Myrra hung back and tried to think what to do.

Imogene paced with bare feet along the top of the wall. It was wide enough for her to walk comfortably, wide enough that people frequently set their plates down on it during rooftop parties. Imogene seemed in control of her body, aware of her surroundings. But Myrra wished she would stop moving around, wished she would sit, give herself a lower center of gravity. The wind picked up at this high an altitude.

Imogene should have been shivering. All she had on was a filmy nightgown and her favorite velvet shawl. Though she hadn’t really dressed, not properly, she was fully done up. Dark-red lipstick. Hair curled and pinned in a wave. Myrra was momentarily impressed that Imogene had managed to do her hair at all without assistance. She really was very beautiful, Myrra thought. Sour, but beautiful. The whole situation felt staged, more like a movie scene than the real thing. But then, that figured. Marcus had met Imogene when she was working as an actress, and doing quite well, to hear Imogene talk of it. But that was all before they’d purchased Myrra’s maid contract. She had been Imogene’s honeymoon present. Myrra wondered why Marcus bothered chasing other women at all. They’d been together for so many years before the baby, and Imogene was still radiant. Myrra wondered if money bought beauty.

Imogene leaned outward to look down at the street below. It threw her body into an impossible angle. Myrra gasped. Imogene turned at the sound and noticed her. She was wearing the smile that she dusted off whenever Marcus brought over his Parliament friends.

“Good morning,” Imogene said.

“Good morning,” Myrra croaked out.

It was hard to breathe. She calculated her odds of being able to run forward and grab Charlotte if Imogene tried to jump. Was she going to jump? Or was this just another strange mood?

Imogene bounced the baby absentmindedly. A high-altitude breeze caught the edges of her skirt, and it danced buoyantly up and down. Myrra stared at Charlotte, asleep and unaware; she took a slow, fluid step toward them. If she could just get close enough—

“Do you think this is real wind, or do you think they manufacture it?” Imogene tossed off. She watched the fabric bob up and down against her body.

“I don’t know, ma’am. How does real wind work?” Myrra asked. This wasn’t what they were supposed to be talking about right now. Imogene’s voice didn’t sound like she was sleepwalking, but could she be sleepwalking?

“I don’t know, actually.” Strange, to hear Imogene say, “I don’t know.”

“Something to do with changes in air pressure,” she continued. “Maybe the world is big enough to create wind on its own.” She let out a single short laugh. “But that’s the problem, isn’t it? We all call this a world. It’s a ship.”

“There’s lots of ways to make a world. This is a world,” Myrra replied. Don’t contradict her, she thought. No telling what might set her off. Just get Charlotte.

Imogene rolled her eyes skyward. “Fine, it’s a world. You know it was Marcus’s firm that came up with the terminology, back when our ancestors boarded? There was a whole PR campaign. As per usual, it was the workforce that really took the bait.”

Bitch. Myrra couldn’t help the word popping into her head. Imogene tossed out small insulting barbs to Myrra out of habit, but now was not the time.

“I would have liked to feel real earth under my feet,” Imogene said.

“We will.”

“No, we won’t.”

Myrra didn’t know what that meant or why Imogene would insinuate such a thing. At the mention of it, Myrra felt a different kind of fear, something larger and vaguer than the fear she had for Charlotte. Maybe Imogene was trying to belittle her again. She just wanted to frighten her. Only Imogene would have the balls to talk like this while also threatening to throw herself off a building. If that was what she was doing. Myrra was usually able to navigate tense situations, but here she was at a loss.

“I hate to involve you in this at all, really, but… well, I know I’m making the right decision here, I really do. I feel at peace with the whole thing.” With one hand, Imogene briefly touched the side of her head to check that her hair was in place. Her calm was slipping; her eyes kept darting between Myrra, Charlotte, and the drop. She might actually jump, Myrra realized. Imogene was afraid. Myrra dared a few more steps forward.

“But when I came up here, I—well, it’s the baby… I can’t do this with the baby. It’s stupid, really, but I don’t think I have the stomach for it.”

“Not stupid,” Myrra said. She inched closer to Imogene, close enough to brush her skirt. “Can I… can I hold Charlotte for you?”

She stretched her arms up. Imogene pulled Charlotte away reflexively, and Myrra flinched at how close she was to the edge. She froze, kept her arms aloft, and prayed that Imogene would meet her halfway. Imogene let out a small sigh, and her shoulders slumped.

“Yes, yes, you see, that’s why I called you up here. I need someone to take the baby. I’m so glad you took my meaning—I know it’s hard for you sometimes.” Myrra clenched her teeth, resisted the urge to snap something at her. She was about to throw herself off a building, for God’s sake.

Uncharacteristically, one of Imogene’s manicured hands flew to her mouth, and her eyes widened with guilt. She stood silent for a second. Myrra could tell she was choosing her next words with care.

“I apologize,” Imogene said. Unheard of, to hear Imogene say, “I apologize.” Myrra fought the urge to empathize with Imogene. She’d been burned by that feeling before.

“Will you please take Charlotte for me? I can’t jump if I’m holding her, and I don’t want to leave her out here in the cold—” Imogene crouched on the balls of her feet, lowering Charlotte. Without another word Myrra closed the gap between them, and gathered the baby in her arms. Imogene let out a small animal-like cry upon releasing her.

A wave of relief engulfed Myrra. Charlotte was safe, still sleeping, nuzzling her head against Myrra’s chest, completely unaware of the peril she’d been in. Myrra turned her energy back to Imogene. Now to get Charlotte’s mother down, if she could.

“Ma’am,” Myrra ventured, “maybe if you came down and talked about it, we could figure something out—”

“Stop playing therapist, Myrra, you’re not at all subtle,” Imogene snapped, then looked guilty again. Myrra wasn’t used to Imogene looking so regretful.

“Look, Myrra—I’m sorry. I know I’ve put you in a terrible position. I just—I don’t know how to handle this,” Imogene continued, changing her tone. “You’re probably smarter than I give you credit for. You must know—you must have sensed that something is going wrong.”

“I know you and Mr. Carlyle have been having some trouble—”

Imogene cut her off. “It’s nothing to do with that. My God, the idea that Marcus would ever drive me to—” Imogene let out a short laugh, then her face crumpled. She was crying. It was hard to track her ping-ponging emotions. “Honestly, if I were less of a coward, I’d take Charlotte with me. It’s cruel, leaving her to suffer.”


  • "The World Gives Way has a sweeping world rich in lore and an electric plot, both of which make for ideal summer reading.”—Vulture
  • Marissa Levien’s THE WORLD GIVES WAY is a staggering marvel, an action-packed cat-and-mouse chase on a doomed generation ship the size of Switzerland … A different novel would have concerned itself with a tense race to fix the ship and save humanity, or framed a series of impossible choices about who gets to live or die. But ‘The World Gives Way’ is neither Tom Godwin’s ‘The Cold Equations’ nor an episode of ‘Doctor Who,’ and Levien’s breathtaking tale is instead about grace, love and what matters at the end of all things.—Amal El-Mohtar, The New York Times
  • "A powerful story of class, privilege, and mortality."—BookRiot
  • "Marissa Levien’s debut novel is The World Gives Way is not just an example of deft, careful storytelling, its beautiful, bleak narrative should serve as a roadmap for other authors attempting to pull off the same feat. This is the kind of ambitious story that the science fiction genre was made to tell.”—Culturess
  • "An engaging sci-fi thriller set against the backdrop of real-world issues."—Shelf Awareness
  • “Combining detective work and slow-burn romance, Levien offers plenty for lovers of cross-genre sci-fi to engage with.”—Publishers Weekly
  • ‘Infinite in scope yet intimately told, The World Gives Way is a meditation on justice, mortality, and the power of connection both in the face of crisis and in the everyday mundane. A stunning debut from an author to watch.”
     —Hannah Whitten, New York Times bestselling author of For the Wolf
  • "An excellent debut, full of wonderful characterization, meticulous, empathetic worldbuilding, and a full heart, contemplating meaning, choices, unjust systems, and what we can do with the time given to us...A novel with empathy, bittersweetness, and a tremendous amount of heart, you’re not going to want to miss this one."
  • "Readers who enjoy outer space adventures with themes of social change will enjoy."
  • The World Gives Way pulls off the seemingly impossible, giving readers a science fiction epic, a crime thriller, an existential consideration of human mortality and the meanings of life, and a profound meditation on love – all in one supernova of a debut novel.” 
     —Paul Harding, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Tinkers
  • “Marissa Levien's clever, humane debut asks a question that feels increasingly central in These Times: what do we do—what can we do—when we know the world is dying? If the stellar premise doesn't suck you in immediately (it will), the richly textured universe and indelible heroine will do the trick—and by the time you get to the final page, you'll be wishing that none of it had to end.”
     —Emily Temple, author of The Lightness
  • “Marissa Levien's debut novel is a thrilling adventure, and in a moment when we're all looking for escape pods, this is a great one.”
     —Emma Straub, New York Times bestselling author of All Adults Here
  • "A crackling post-apocalyptic novel and a literary stunner in the tradition of Station Eleven, about both the bang and the whimper at the end of the world.”
     —Susan Scarf Merrell, author of Shirley
  • "Myrra is the heroine readers need now, brave, unstoppable and full of hope, even as the world around her breaks apart. The World Gives Way is one of the most imaginative, thrilling and meaningful novels of the year."
     —Julia Fierro, author of Cutting Teeth
  • "The World Gives Way features some of the most ingenious world-building I've seen in ages, from class systems to grains of sand in the desert—but that's not what makes it special. The beating heart of this book is what Marissa Levien reveals about love, humanity, and our place in the universe."
     —Rob Hart, author of The Warehouse

On Sale
Jun 15, 2021
Page Count
416 pages

Marissa Levien

About the Author

Marissa Levien is a writer and artist who hails from Washington State and now lives in New York with a kindly journalist and their two cats. The World Gives Way is her first novel.

Learn more about this author