Hugo reading 2017: Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire

After all those short stories and comics, I wanted something a bit longer. But I’m not quite ready to commit to the novels yet, so it’s novella time!

First cab off the rank was Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire. I’ve actually read this already, but it was a pleasure to re-read it. The basic premise of this story is that sometimes, the children who go to Narnia, or Oz, or Fairyland, or Wonderland, or the Land of the Dead, don’t want to come home. But they do anyway, and then what can they do? Well, fortunately for them, Eleanor West, who spent most of her childhood visiting a Nonsense world, has set up a school for these children, which is good, because whether they are High Nonsense / Virtuous, or High Logic / Wicked they tend to be a little bit odd.

Nancy has recently returned from the Land of the Dead, where she spent several years learning stillness before she was sent home to our world, in order to be sure that she wanted to stay. She is certain that the door will open again for her. Sadly, her parents think that she was kidnapped for six months and just want their bright, vibrant daughter back. They also want her to be normal and go on dates, which is a problem for Nancy, because she is asexual.

At the Home for Wayward Children, Nancy meets other children who are like her, but not like her. There is the hyperactive Sami, who spent time in a High Nonsense, candy-themed world; Allison, who ran on rainbows; the beautiful Kane, whose fairyland kicked him out when they realised that the little girl they had kidnapped was ‘actually a little boy who just happened to look like a little girl’ (I do like this way of describing a transgender character); the twins, Jack and Jill, who came from a rather dark world ruled by vampires, where Jack was apprenticed to the local mad scientist, and Jill was the chosen adopted daughter of the local vampire lord; and Christopher, my personal favourite, who went to a world of ‘happy, dancing skeletons’, and can still make skeletons dance with his bone flute.

Alas, someone is murdering the children at the school, and Nancy’s status as the new girl with an affinity for Death (and a tendency to be drawn to the other children from the darker worlds) makes her a suspect.

This story is great fun. It’s quite dark and scary in places, but there is a lovely sense of humour to it, and I do like the way Seanan writes characters whose sexualities are not the standard cis/het variety. I liked all of the characters, and of course the premise is awesome. The mystery was a bit light on – it was clear to me fairly early on who the murderer was – but in fact that didn’t matter, because the suspense came from a) the characters working it out b) wondering just what they would do when they did, since the personal moralities of these characters was pretty variable, and c) wondering whether any of the children would find their way ‘home’ to their other worlds. Which was, I think, something that mattered to the children even more than the murders did.

The bizarre bit is that I could have sworn that the answer to c) was different the first time I read this novella.

But I’ve just checked my hard copy of this book, and unless Seanan McGuire has channelled some sort of alternate universe magic – which is certainly possible – it was the same. Very odd. Anyway, I like this a lot, and it’s going to be high on my ballot!

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