As one of the thousands who fled the outbreak of nuclear war in an alternate United States―on an alternate timeline―Hel finds herself living as a refugee in our own not-so-parallel New York. An exploration of the effects of displacement on our identities, the communities that come together through circumstance, and the power of art to save us.
... magnificent ... an awesome and humbling literary achievement ... The text is triumphant, darkly humorous, and mournful by turns ... As its characters grasp for a concrete place to rest in a world that ever diverges from its set paths, Famous Men Who Never Lived is mesmerizing.
While Chess’ language is adept, and her worldbuilding is meticulous (almost overwhelmingly so sometimes), the plot of Famous Men Who Never Lived is somewhat complex and at times feels like it is attempting to accomplish too much ... But, really, once you’re in Famous Men Who Never Lived’s world, following alongside the funny, interesting, and sympathetic characters, the occasional 'huh?' moment recedes and the story races along to a surprising climax. Famous Men Who Never Lived, alongside an inventive and compelling narrative, offers an empathetic and fine-tuned commentary on displacement and otherness ... The novel is a wonderful example of how fiction can illuminate reality—and a stark reminder that we are all human, deserving of dignity and respect, no matter the country or dimension from which we come.
Chess’ debut novel offers an intriguing and fresh spin on the parallel-worlds theme with its timely emphasis on the challenges facing migrants in hostile, unfamiliar surroundings, marking her as a promising new voice in speculative fiction.