You’ll be Dazzled by “The Dazzling Heights” by Katharine McGee

The Dazzling Heights is a full of blackmails, betrayals, and secrecy — the only thing that isn’t a secret is my love for this book. I was thoroughly dazzled by Katharine McGee’s sequel to the Thousandth Floor, and I will proclaim it from the rooftops… though probably not the rooftop of the New York skyscraper where this series takes place. In this futuristic world, New York City is now contained within one larger-than-life mega-skyscraper with 1,000 floors. If you’ve never heard of The Thousandth Floor until now, then you’re lucky: you won’t have to wait a year for book two like I did. ’Tis the tragedy of everyone who recommends their favorite books and TV shows to others: that simultaneous excitement and jealousy of knowing you’ve ushered a new minion into your tribe… but they’ll never understand the year of suffering you endured waiting for the sequels to be released.

But for those who have read The Thousandth Floor, here’s a helpful refresher. (No spoilers)

In The Dazzling Heights, we return to the towering New York skyscraper, which is so high that oxygenated air is pumped into the upper floors to keep citizens from contracting altitude sickness. The skyscraper can be thought of as a literal measuring stick for how rich you are. Those who live in floors 500 and under are considered lowly and underprivileged, while residents of the higher floors are often extravagantly wealthy, with sky-high budgets to prove it.

The Fullers, who patented the blueprint for super-skyscrapers, live on the thousandth floor — and they’re made of money the way the Michelin Man is made of marshmallows. They’re so rich, in fact, that they even start another building project in Dubai: a pair of super-skyscrapers nicknamed “the mirrors” for their contrasting black and white colors. You’ll recognize these skyscrapers from The Dazzling Heights’ front cover.

In this installment of McGee’s soon-to-be-trilogy, we’ve got five points of view at play:

Avery Fuller, a daughter of the famous Fullers, whose glamorous life on the thousandth floor has a few strings attached.

Rylin Myers, a low-level resident of the Tower, working a dead-end job to keep her and her sister afloat.

Watt Bakradi, a brainy high school student with an illegal quantum computer implanted in his brain.

Leda Cole, an uptower socialite struggling to cover up a horrible crime.

Calliope Brown, a traveling con artist who quickly fixates on Avery’s brother — mostly for his money, but, you know, his attractiveness probably helps.

Every character has a secret — and every character also has the juice on somebody else. That’s part of what makes the book’s relationships so dynamic: at any moment, someone could be betrayed.

I give this book five out of five starry-eyed emojis. Since there’s so much I loved about it, I’m gonna be a downer for thirty seconds and start by getting the things I didn’t like out of the way.

The three things I didn’t like about the book:

1) Not enough facial descriptions. There were a ton of characters, but few descriptions on what they looked like, other than the fact that they were young, rich, and alluring. Because of this, my imagination really had to compensate. Honestly, I ended up picking movie characters and music artists for most of them. IE, my brain totally cast Shawn Mendes as Cord.

2) The futurism wasn’t 100% believable. There were a few things that I just couldn’t force myself to believe. The biggest example: all the objects popping out of the walls. And the ceiling. And the floors. When a new student needs a desk, the teacher hits a button and a desk conveniently rises out of the ground. When four characters go to the spa, facial steamers drop down from the ceiling. When Leda goes to her psychiatrist, sleeping pills dispense themselves from the wall. Whenever this technology happens in a book (Uglies by Scott Westerfield also includes wall dispensers), I always have a hard time believing it, because it just doesn’t seem like something we’d ever spend our hardworking tax dollars to pay for. I mean, for real: we already pay for plumbing. But would we also pay for a system of giant pipes that can shoot out furniture, makeup, clothing, and medicine at our slightest whim? Even if it was a private practice, and I was rich enough to afford it, I can’t imagine spending my money on that. I can imagine a richer version of myself having UberEats deliver all my food to my doorstep — but installing a pipeline between my house and Nebraska Furniture Mart? That’s a little too much for me.

Admittedly, I suppose the wall-dispenser situation adds a layer of suspense to the book. It prompts you to wonder: what’s gonna shoot out of the wall next? A hairdryer? An Angry Bird? A box of pop tarts?

3) Calliope’s opening didn’t thrill me. I felt like her introductory chapter was a bit of an info-dump — I wished the author would have shown us she was a criminal, instead of immediately telling us all about her life of crime. I also thought that her backstory flashbacks felt a little bit generic. But overall, I think Calliope’s point of view really works in a multifaceted storyline like this one. The book couldn’t comfortably afford to spend the screen time it would take to gradually show us she was a criminal, rather than telling us straight out of the gate. I can respect that. Even though Calliope was the rockiest character to get used to, I think she did enrich the book as a whole.

Okay. Now I can wave goodbye to my cynical inner critic, and say hello to my inner fangirl.

Here’s the spoiler-free list of what I loved about this book:

1) I LOVED Calliope’s plot twist at the end. The moment I thought everything was over for her, she found a new way to stay in the game.

2) I loved how everyone has dirt on each other. You never know who’s gonna betray who, and — to use a favorite vocabulary word of back-cover book reviewers — it was delicious.

3) I loved how deeply flawed Leda was. In her efforts to keep her secret safe, she manipulates almost everyone to keep their mouths shut. The way she self-justifies her actions, while at the same time coming to grips with what she’s done and how horribly she’s treated people, displays an incredible and yet believable spectrum of emotions. This is the character you’ll love to hate, then hate to love.

What I loved, part two:

***YOU ARE NOW LEAVING THE SPOILER-FREE ZONE***

***DO NOT CONTINUE UNLESS YOU’VE READ THIS BOOK***
***HERE BE SPOILERS***
***ABANDON HOPE FOR DISCOVERING THE ENDING OF YOUR OWN ACCORD, ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE***

My favorite relationship in the book, hands down, was between Leda and Watt. Both of them devise secret plans to prevent each other from spilling their secrets. Leda decides to blackmail Watt, while Watt uses his supercomputer to film Leda confessing. When I heard about Watt’s plans to pull that off, I thought, oh, yes. This is the moment you grab the popcorn and recline your movie seat, people. Of course, Leda’s confession didn’t come easily. Leda had to trust Watt first, and he knew this, so he forced himself to get to know her despite their mutual hatred. And yet, as they got closer, Watt realized that even though Leda was deeply convoluted and tied up in a mess of her own mistakes, she still had a kernel of goodness in her. I loved the chapter where he went with her to rehab, and he got his first real glimpse of how tormented and lonely she was. That was a real breakthrough for their relationship, and I’m really looking forward to hear more about them.

I also loved how the book displayed such a vast emotional spectrum. Because we bounce between five characters’ heads, we get to experience so many different and complex feelings.

You really get to ride down the emotional rainbow like a nerdy leprechaun. For me, that’s what turns a good book into a journey — it’s what makes you shut a book thinking, wow, that was a real adventure, instead of well, that was an entertaining escape from the daily grind. Of course, this can obviously be done by books with only one POV; it’s just a little more challenging for the author to wring the full emotional spectrum out of fewer characters.

I also adored how the ending unified all the characters against a common enemy. Before I reminisce on this moment, let us harken back to the prologue, when a dead girl was found floating in a lake. When Mariel drugged Leda and led her to the black lake in Dubai, I thought for sure that Leda would be the one who died. But when Leda survived, my thoughts arrived in this order:

  1. oh my gosh, that means someone else is gonna die.
  2. unless the prologue was totally clickbait and no one dies.
  3. if that happens, I’m rage quitting this book.

But McGee did not disappoint. I’ll confess: I *accidentally* flipped ahead and found out that Mariel got her own POV, but I did not expect her to die in it. I’ve never seen someone kill off a villain without spending at least one book with the characters locked in battle against them. It was a very interesting maneuver, and it intrigues me to see where the author is gonna go with this. It makes me wonder: who’s gonna be the villain for book 3, now that Mariel is gone? I’m also doubly intrigued because there’s no way the author would have given Mariel a POV (albeit a short one) unless she had some overarching plan for it. My crackpot theory is that Mariel’s death will be a source of conflict in book three, because then the characters will have to cover up two murders instead of one.

Finally, I loved the moment when Mariel tricked Leda into revealing all her secrets. I love how it’s this literal “transfer of villainy” from one character the next. In the majority of the book, Leda was the villain, because she used everyone’s secrets to threaten and coerce them. But once she passes those secrets to Mariel, a new villain gets the crown, and Leda turns good. She calls everyone to her hotel to tell them about Mariel, then apologizes and proposes a truce. The Avengers theme may or may not played in my head while I read that scene. I thought for sure Mariel’s appearance was the kickstart of book three’s plot, so I was doubly surprised when she got killed. Regardless, there are still so many conclusions I can barely wait for. Will Atlas and Avery get back together? Will Watt and Leda’s relationship survive? Will they all get caught for Mariel’s death? Will Leda’s secret leak out? Will Rylin and Cord get back together?

One thing’s for sure: the release of The Thousandth Floor, Book Three, is definitely on my “future freakouts” list. Anybody know how to pre-order a book one year in advance?

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