I finally finished listening to all the Wayward Children novellas on audiobook! My current ranking and ratings are:
- In an Absent Dream – ★★★★★ (review)
- Every Heart a Doorway – ★★★★¾
- Come Tumbling Down – ★★★★ (review)
- Beneath the Sugar Sky – ★★★★
- Down Among the Sticks and Bones – ★★★½ (review)
At this point, this is probably my favorite novella series? It would have been the Tensorate, if it weren’t for how dreadfully boring The Descent of Monsters was (I tried to reread it; I couldn’t).
And today I’m posting the two missing reviews, Every Heart a Doorway and Beneath the Sugar Sky.
Every Heart a Doorway‘s subversive take on portal fantasy is nothing short of one of the most interesting premises I’ve found in SFF in the last few years.
It’s a novella that reads at the same time like a boarding school mystery and a love letter to fantasy fans. It’s the kind of book that understands why we find solace in fictional worlds, sometimes even worlds more explicitly terrible than our own, and spins those feelings into a wonderful reverse portal fantasy. It’s the kind of book that understands the place gender and marginalizations have in who feels the need to escape reality the most, and applies this reality to a diverse cast. And it is, more than anything, a really compelling, charming read.
Between this and In an Absent Dream, I’m not sure which is my favorite of the series. In that one, I loved the message, the world, and how much it made me think; here, apart from my appreciation for the school as a setting, I loved every single character: their interactions, their quirks, even the ones I didn’t love the first time around (how could I think Jack was boring back then, I don’t know).
And Nancy remains my favorite. Her story is about the inherent power of stillness, which is something I haven’t seen often, because we tend to understate just how much potential is hidden in the ability to fade into the background.
For a story about murder, it’s really quiet, because that’s who Nancy is – quiet, understated Nancy from the underworld, who could live only on pomegranate juice if she were allowed to do so. At times, she was so quiet she almost felt like a side character in her own story, but that’s kind of her nature. Her development is really subtle as well, which is why this novella is one of my favorites in the series: unlike some of the sequels, it understands the use of subtlety; it takes after portal fantasy and fairytales in its atmosphere and symbolism but not in the way it is told. It doesn’t beat us over the head with a message, and Nancy doesn’t undergo a drastic change either.
A central theme in this whole series is the idea of “being sure”, of having to make a choice and live with it. Nancy has been temporarily exiled from the underworld because its lord thinks Nancy should be able to choose where she lives – and in the beginning, she feels like she is sure, of course she’s sure she wants to live in the Halls of the Dead. In this story, she makes friends, she understands how she could fit into the “real” world, and then, only then, she’s able to actually make her choiche – hers, not her parent’s or her lord’s, because she truly understands her options. In that, the underworld has been fairer to her than most world are to the children of this series.
The final scene of this novella didn’t fail to make me tear up this time around either, because of what it says about agency and belonging, in just a few lines.
I love when books manage to surprise me on reread! For some reason, I remembered Beneath the Sugar Sky as significantly more boring than it actually was. It’s not my favorite in the series, and of all the worlds we have visited so far, Confection is probably the one that interested me the least (the whole “everything is candy” gets old fairly quickly), but I still loved it. Mostly because of how it builds over Every Heart a Doorway, deepening the reader’s understanding of this universe – I really liked that the concept of “worlds from” and “worlds to” was introduced, I had forgotten that, but it clears up some things – and of the characters.
The characters were really what made this book worth it for me. I loved reading about Cora, Kade (especially Kade) and Christopher so much. Their banter is amazing, and I would read a novella about them just walking around even in a very ordinary world, as they are anything but and would make it interesting anyway.
Beneath the Sugar Sky is, in its own (at times very odd) ways, about assumptions. About how Cora has to deal with the horrible assumptions people (and our whole culture, really) make about her because she’s fat; about how making the assumption that undoing death in a nonsense world is impossible might have been the very thing that could have stopped the main characters. The delivery of the message is heavy handed and at times repetitive, but for how much I might not like that, it’s on par with most of the series; and in this instance, some of the repetitive nature also feels justified – Cora has been sent to what’s basically candy-land, of course she’s thinking a lot about how people would assume that’s all she’s ever wanted. It doesn’t feel like the narration is intruding to preach at you as it did in Down Among the Sticks and Bones.
My favorite scenes were the ones set in the Halls of the Dead, as they were the first time around. I’m so happy for Nancy (and Nadia), and I loved this portrayal of the underworld. It’s so quiet, peaceful and beautiful, and I get why Nancy was drawn to it.
And now I want to know more about the baker! I’m not saying more because of spoilers, but I hope that someone will appear again in future books.
CWs: apart from the discussion on fatphobia, there’s mention of the main character having attempted suicide in the past.
- Across the Green Grass Fields has been announced! And it’s about a world of magical horses? Nine-year-old me would have given so much for a book like that.
- As I have no intention to stop cooking (the same things over and over more or less, because I’m lazy), I have to find a new audiobook to listen to! I’m not sure what it will be yet.
Tell me all your Wayward Children opinions, if you have any!