Review: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Title: Every Heart a Doorway
Author: Seanan McGuire
Genre: famtasy
Series: Wayward Children #1
Pages: 176
Published: April 5, 2016
Source: borrowed library
Rating: 4.5/5

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Guests

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 the matter.

No matter the cost.
"We notice the silence of men. We depend upon the silence of women."

This book is so special to me. I like the Toby Daye series and Sparrow Hill Road a lot. I loved Feed and it's gut-punch ending. But while Seanan is a favorite author, never before has one of her books spoken to me.

EHaD is the story of Alice and Susan and all of the other children who return from their portal fantasy to find a world they no longer fit. Some of the characters broke the rules of their fairy lands, some were sent back to make sure this was the life they wanted. But every child in Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children wants to return to their real world, their home.

Firstly, I love the world building for the portals. Seanan has created a sliding scale for the worlds, from High Nonsense to High Logic and everything in between. The worlds are classified as Fairylands or Mirrors (like Wonderland) or Underworlds... There is a girl from Webworld, a Borrowers like place of warring spider queens and Jack and Jill from their horror movie Moors, where one was apprenticed to a mad scientist and the other a vampire's pet. Sumi is High Nonsense Mirror called Confection, while Kade is a High Logic Fairyland, Prism, returned to Earth for not being the princess the fairies thought they'd stolen but a prince and heir to the Goblin King. (TW for deadnaming in one of his chapters.) And Nancy. Nancy who longs to return to the Halls of the Dead, her Greek inspired Underworld, where members of the court stand still as statues, slowing their breathing and heart rate until they're almost dead too, for days on end. They're fed dribbles of pomegranate juice and Nancy was gone six months, one for each pomegranate seed Persephone ate.  (Nancy's relationship with food could also be triggering for some, as she no longer eats or needs to eat as the rest of humans do, subsisting mostly on a few pomegranate seeds at a time.)

In typical Seanan fashion, the story really starts when all of these children are forced together under one roof - and then the murders start. 

As with all her work, the book is a great balance of banter and action. I highlighted a lot of snark, mostly from Jack and her "foolish disregard for the laws of nature". (She was making cheese.) But, this book also has a lot of profound, heartfelt moments, too. The story is clearly also special to the author as she and the main character share an orientation. In no other book have I seen a frank discussion of the difference between asexuality and celibacy or asexuality and aromanticism. It's quietly put out there, plainly stated without shifting the focus.

The mystery is fine but as the book is technically a novella, it's a little rote. Very similar to the second Toby Daye book, when every suspect is dead or stabbed, only then will the killer reveal herself. My real issue with the book and the reason for the half point deduction is early on in the book Lundy, one of the teachers and grown portal travelers, tells Nancy that only three students have ever returned through their portals. By the end of the book, that number will more than double. It felt a little trite and trying too hard to give a happy end to a book about a girl's eyes being ripped out while she was still alive. It did give us a hell of a quote, though. 

“You're nobody's rainbow.
You're nobody's princess.
You're nobody's doorway but your own, and the only one who gets to tell you how your story ends is you.”

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