Review: In an Absent Dream

Title: In an Absent Dream (January 8, 2019)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Pages: 208
Wayward Children #4 (Series Tracker)

These novellas have become a delicious morsel to snack on at the beginning of each new year. In an Absent Dream continues that trend with an engaging story about Katherine Lundy, a rule-following young girl who stumbles upon a portal world where fairness is the impetus behind all the laws in the land.  Author Seanan McGuire has such an interesting way of communicating sights and sounds and smells to the reader that it’s impossible to not be enchanted by the worlds she creates. Each book in the series has featured a unique fairy-tale land and I look forward to seeing what she cooks up next.

As always, it’s tough for me to push the rating for a novella beyond 3 full stars, but I did really dig this one. It still feels like a highlight reel of a what could have been a much longer book, though. 

★★★¼  out of 5

Review: Beneath the Sugar Sky

BeneaththeSugarSky.jpgTitle: Beneath the Sugar Sky (2018)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Pages: 160
Series: Wayward Children #3 (Series Tracker)

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

In this third novella of the series, a group of travelers from Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children sets off to resurrect a former student in hopes of saving her future daughter (who somehow already exists).

Having enjoyed, but not loved the previous two books, I found this one to be my favorite of the bunch. The characters are well-drawn, rich, and nuanced; the story feels cohesive, complete, and fun; and the portal world of Confection is a joy to read about. Author Seanan McGuire does a great job to further the development of the portal worlds, giving more background into their existence and what they mean to the children who venture there.

Generally, I struggle to rate novellas higher than 3 stars, as they rarely dive as deep as a full-length novel can, but this one came close! I’d happily go on another adventure in this world, though.

★★★½ out of 5

Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones

down-among-the-sticks-and-bones-book-coverTitle: Down Among the Sticks and Bones (2017)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Pages: 176
Series: Wayward Children #2 (Series Tracker)

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a standalone story set prior to the events of author Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway (review). Twins Jacqueline (Jack) and Jillian (Jill) are raised to fit perfectly within the boxes their parents select for them — looks, clothing, and behavior are all meticulously regimented. When they climb through a portal into an unknown world, they leave the rigidity of their past behind them and seek a chance to start anew. Vampires, mad scientists, and romances abound!

McGuire employs an inviting and clean prose, through which she can clearly communicate the cruel nature of Jack and Jill’s individual situations. She makes you feel that being plopped into a dangerous world is a welcome respite for what the twins were coming from.

In the novella format, it’s tough to fit worldbuilding, character development, and a solid story together effectively. Here, the characterization of Jack and Jill is excellent, the worldbuilding of the Moors (the creepy portal land) is strong, but the overall story left me wanting. The sequence of plot events spans several years but skips by very quickly, never lingering long enough for each event to have the intended impact. I had similar feelings when reading
Every Heart a Doorway — an enjoyable read built from a fun idea, but with a story that I never fully connected with.


★★★ out of 5

Review: Every Heart a Doorway

every-heart-a-doorwayTitle: Every Heart a Doorway (2016)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Pages: 173
Series: Wayward Children #1

Review: Picture this: a halfway house, of sorts, for children who have gone through portals to other worlds and returned, broken by their inability to go back. They identify themselves by the portal world they experienced.

“I’m Kade, by the way. Fairyland.”

Each world falls on a spectrum between several extremities: Logic to Nonsense, Wickedness to Virtue, etc. This matter-of-fact seriousness brings gravity to what could easily have been a silly story. Author Seanan McGuire clearly put a great deal of thought into these categorizations as well as the psychological trauma a child would feel having been stuck in our world, never able to find a door to return to the only place they ever felt they belonged. As such, each character has a more compelling backstory than the last.

Overall, I was more intrigued by the overall idea here than the plot that unfolds, but Every Heart a Doorway is a tidy, well-written novella that was an enjoyable diversion.

★★★ out of 5