Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children # 1) by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire is a prolific author - and whatever genre her novels may be in, she always infuses elements of strange and the horrific in some subtle ways to make all the stories darkly hypnotic and compelling. Her books have a charm, in the sense that before you know it, you are already a quarter of a way into the story. And then before you realize it, you get sucked in deeper and then you are staying up, past bedtime to just race to the end point. Addictive, is to put it mildly.

And so with Every Heart a Doorway - a strange little love letter to the nomad in all of us, that part of us that never belonged, to those who never felt happy with their ties to their worldly possessions weighing them down - Seanan transports us to the boarding school of Eleanor West, who looks after those 'special' children who have tumbled through doors into different other worlds (like the Moors of blood-sucking monsters, the market of goblins, dancing skeletons) around us but for some inexplicable reason, have found their way back into our normal world where they can never belong. We are introduced to Nancy, a quiet girl who had left the world to wander the Halls of Dead - and quiet enjoyed the experience, striving hard to get accepted into the retinue of the servants of the Queen and to please the Master of that world. But Nancy has come back to this "multi-colored, bright and fast moving" world where her parents just want her to "date somebody and settle down soon" without bothering to understand what it is like to be in her shoes. But Nancy soon makes friends with the "special" ones inside El's school - There's Sumi, who talks non-stop and cannot seem to stay still even for a second. Kade, an extraordinarily beautiful boy who is a wiz with the needle, stitching clothes to fit the kids better. Then there are the twins, Jack and Jill who are shunned and feared by the entire school community for having fallen into a world of Moors with its vampire Lord and doctors who loved to teach human anatomy rather than the happy world of pink balloons and gentle meadows.
Things seemed to be going well enough when a killer strikes the school - dismembering body parts and striking at random. Nancy and her friends would have to forget their differences and band together, never to stray alone to find out and stop this person before more bodies or body parts start to roll.

In some ways, Seanan's own interpretation of the standard trope of the portal fantasy mixed with the fairy tales we have grown up with, is fairly unique. She puts her inimitable spin on this improbable mixture, making the taut and cleverly spun tale a bit dark but impossible to put down. While Nancy is a bit cold and hard to identify with, Sumi and Jack are such heart-warming characters. Sumi - who had to learn to talk fast and be on the run to survive in a High Nonsense world and Jack aka Jacqueline who was adopted by a mad doctor, who taught her everything that was to be taught about the human anatomy so to survive in a wild moor ruled by a Vampire Lord. My only complaint would be that the abrupt ending of the novella, takes away a lot of the struggles and troubles suffered by the kids, trying to fit in and find their 'home' at the school for Wayward Children.

I loved this short punchy novella about the pangs of trying to belong in a world with its varied allusions to Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland. Reading it was so much fun and this one's highly recommended. Part of a three-part series, Wayward Children - Beneath a Sugar Sky released from Tor.com on January 9th. 


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