Monday, 11 April 2016

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire is one of the novellas from Tor.com's new novella line. I particularly wanted to read it after hearing the description and favourable review from Alex on Galactic Suburbia and I'm glad I did.

Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she's back. The things she's experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West's care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy's arrival marks a change at the Home. There's a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it's up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of things.

No matter the cost.

I've read some Seanan McGuire short stories in the past, which have been varied in theme and tone etc, and her Mira Grant novels, which are more SF horror. As a result, I wasn't prepared for just how delightful Every Heart a Doorway would be. Not only is the premise and story interesting — as you can probably tell from the blurb — but the writing itself strikes a perfect balance between children's writing and writing about children's stories for an older audience. Not that portal fantasy stories are limited to kids' and YA books, but the kind referenced in Every Heart a Doorway mostly were. This makes it the perfect book for older and younger readers alike.

The story follows Nancy, a new student at the school for teens who have come back from portal worlds and wish they hadn't. She's an interesting choice of main character because she went to an Underworld, ruled by the Lord of the Dead, rather than the cheery fairyland type of place, like you might more commonly picture. She's a good character to ease the reader in with, because all the (mostly) girls went to very different places, so the fact that Nancy's is so unusual helps us keep that in mind. Also, Nancy is asexual, which in itself is unusual in a main character. I thought that presented and handled well, as was the trans character who played a key role and whose travels were complicated by his identity and vice versa. Also, the explanation for why more girls go through doors to other worlds is... depressingly logical.

The premise that I've mostly talked about so far is part of the world building rather than the story. The main plot properly starts shortly after Nancy arrives at school and other students start winding up dead. Naturally people suspect the newcomer, so Nancy becomes involved in trying to find the perpetrator with her new friends. The murder mystery was a bit dire, given the setting, but also served to underscore that portal travel and the events that can happen on the other side are serious business.

I loved Every Heart a Doorway and stayed up late reading until I had finished with it, unable to put it down. I highly recommend it to all fans of fantasy of all types. It's not exactly a portal fantasy story, but will definitely appeal to fans of that genre. Its also not a very long read, so if you're unsure, I suggest giving it a go anyway. I don't think you'll regret it.

5 / 5 stars

First published: April 2016, Tor.com
Series: Apparently there will be more books/stories set in the same universe, but not yet
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

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