Category: Fantasy

Spin the Dawn

Cover image for Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim by Elizabeth Lim

ISBN 9780525647010

“You will hold the seams of our family together, Maia. No other tailor in the world can do that.”

As the youngest child and only daughter of Master Tailor Kalsang Tamarin, Maia knows that she will never inherit her father’s title. Not only does she have three older brothers, but the title cannot be held by a woman in her own right. Nevertheless, Maia is the most dedicated to the family’s trade, while her brothers dream of other things. Then war comes to A’landi, and two of Maia’s brothers are taken, and the third severely injured. After five years of fighting, Emperor Khanujin strikes a marriage alliance with the shansen’s daughter, Lady Sarnai, to bring peace at last. In honour of their wedding, a new imperial tailor will be selected, and Kalsang Tamarin is summoned to the Summer Palace to compete for the position. Too broken by drink and grief, Maia’s father has not sewn in years, while her youngest brother is still recovering from the war, and cannot equal his father’s skill anyway. Disguised as Keton Tamarin, Maia answers the call to represent her family, plunged into a world of imperial politics, and impossible challenges set by a reluctant bride who has been sold by her father in exchange for peace. Only with the help of the Lord Enchanter may Maia have a chance to survive the intrigues of the court and prove her skill as the best tailor in the land.

Spin the Dawn in the first in a duology that follows the trials and adventures of Maia Tamarin. Elizabeth Lim has divided the novel into three parts, including The Trial, The Journey, and The Oath. The first part of the book focuses on Maia’s arrival at the imperial court, and the fierce competition for the position of imperial tailor. The incumbent died under mysterious circumstances, and the selection of his successor is looking to be equally fraught. As the youngest candidate without a reputation of her own, Maia is in a weak position despite her evident skill. She has also drawn the attention of the Lord Enchanter, who may know her secret, or have some other reason for watching her so closely. The other tailors are determined to win the post at any cost, and the Lady Sarnai has no interest in making the competition any easier. In fact, it seems that the shansen’s daughter will do anything to delay her marriage to the emperor. After setting a series of impossible challenges in the competition, she throws down the final gauntlet; the winner must gather sunbeams, moonlight, and the blood of the stars in order to sew the three dresses of the Goddess Amana for the imperial wedding.

Lady Sarnai is one of the more interesting characters in the book, but not one that we get much chance to explore deeply, as she disappears from the narrative when Maia leaves on her journey to gather the materials to make the legendary three dresses of Amana. Honestly, I would have been more interested to see what could have come from an alliance between Maia and Lady Sarnai than the romance that is developed in the second half with Maia and the Lord Enchanter. A fierce huntress with ideas of her own, Lady Sarnai has been betrayed by her own father, who promised never to marry her off. She is reportedly in love with Lord Xina, but has been forced into a marriage alliance instead, with a man who has been the enemy of her people. Biased by the differences of a five year war, she and Maia are set at odds where perhaps they could have been allies.

The second part of the book takes Maia out of the palace to gather the magical materials demanded of her impossible task. She is accompanied by Edan, the Lord Enchanter, who has become an unexpected ally but one she does not know much about or have a great deal of reason to trust. However, she needs his magic and knowledge to accomplish her impossible task. Over the course of their journey, Maia comes to understand the nature of Edan’s binding to Emperor Khanujin, and how he has been forced to serve the throne of A’landi for generations. On the road, the two fall in love as they face the dangers of the Halakamarat Desert, Rainmaker’s Peak, and the Forgotten Isles of Lapzur. They are racing against time, as the Lady Sarnai has declared the dresses must be complete by the time the Red Sun rises on the ninth day of the ninth month.

The final part of the book wraps up the challenge of the dresses of Amana, but opens a new challenge for Maia and Edan, surrounded by the circumstances of his oath, and the consequences of the choices they made on their journey. As I was not particularly invested in their relationship, I think that I will be unlikely to finish this series.

You might also be interested in The Star-Touched Queen 

Over the Woodward Wall

Cover image for Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Bakerby A. Deborah Baker

ISBN 978-0-7653-9927-4

“Are you sure you want an ending? Endings are tricky things. They wiggle and writhe like worms, and once you have them, you can’t give them back again. You can hang them on hooks and sail the seas for sequels, if you realize you don’t like where your story stopped, but you’ll always have had an ending, and there will always be people who won’t follow you past that line. You lose things when you have an ending. Big things. Important things. Better not to end at all, if you can help it.”

Once upon a time, on an ordinary street, in an ordinary suburb, in an ordinary town, two perfectly ordinary children wake up on what should be an entirely ordinary day, only to find themselves on an adventure. Restless and quick, Zib Jones loves messes and surprises, and playing in the woods behind her house. Quiet and steady, Avery Grey is a boy who likes order and polish, and long hours spent at the library looking for the secrets of the universe. Though they are neighbours, these two very different children have never crossed paths, so the paths are about to cross for them, whether they will it or not. Despite being students at two entirely different schools, both children find a mysterious wall cutting through their neighbourhood where it has no right to be, blocking their way to school. On the other side is the Up-and-Under, and the adventure that awaits them there.

Over the Woodward Wall is the middle grade debut of fantasy author Seanan McGuire, writing as A. Deborah Baker (she also writes horror as Mira Grant). Tor describes it as a companion book to Middlegame, one of her books that I have not read yet. In many ways, however, it actually feels like a sibling book to McGuire’s Wayward Children series, but for a slightly younger audience. A wall leads to the Up-and-Under, not a doorway, but what comes next is much of a kind, a portal fantasy with two children on an adventure that is about self-discovery and finding their place in the world(s). This is as much about knowing where you do not belong as where you do, the choices that you make along the way, and the companions that you choose or discard.

Over the Woodward Wall employs a fairly self-conscious narration style, wordy and clever, one that draws attention to the fact that the story is being narrated rather than allowing you to relax into it. Baker does not want you to forget that this is a story, and that stories have rules, even if rules are meant to be broken, or at least interrogated. Although it is like a fairy tale, it is one that warns children against many of the things fairy tales sometimes perpetuate. The Queens of the Up-and-Under are beautiful, but “it is a myth that goodness is always lovely and wickedness is always dreadful to behold; the people who say such things have reason for their claims and would rather those reasons not be overly explored,” Baker warns. Similarly, “sometimes anger is a good, true thing, because the world is often unfair and unfairness deserves to be acknowledged. But all too often, anger is another feeling in its Sunday clothes, sadness or envy or—most dangerous of all—fear,” she cautions.

This book is only two hundred pages, and the ending still came more quickly than I expected, but Over the Woodward Wall is listed as first in a series, so there is likely more to come for Zib and Avery. I’ll definitely be sailing the seas for that sequel.

The Burning God (The Poppy War #3)

Cover image for The Burning God by R. F. Kuangby R.F. Kuang

ISBN 9780062662620

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

“Every day since the end of the Third Poppy War, Rin had learned that her victory on Speer mattered less and less. War hadn’t ended when Emperor Ryohai perished on the longbow island. War hadn’t ended when Vaisra’s army defeated the Imperial Navy at the Red Cliffs. She’d been so stupid to once think that if she ended the Federation then she’d end the hurting.  War didn’t end, not so cleanly–it just kept building up in little hurts that piled on each other until they exploded afresh into raw new wounds.”

Disillusioned with the Dragon Republic, Fang Runin has broken with Yin Vaisra and his Hesperian backers, and returned to the South, seeking new allies among the rag tag armies of the Southern Coalition. Nikan remains riven by civil war, and Rin finds to her dismay that the men who lead the Southern forces are no more willing to put a young woman in charge than their Northern counterparts, no matter if she is one of the last shaman in the Empire, able to call down the Phoenix, god of fire and vengeance, onto the battle field. Unable to trust her supposed allies, Rin will be forced to reach high and low, turning the common people to her cause, while also making dangerous bargains with former enemies as the Hesperian threat looms larger, and Yin Nezha mounts a final clash between the Republican army, and Rin’s forces.

The final installment of R.F. Kuang’s Poppy Wars series follows Rin as she makes the latest in a series of bad bargains with untrustworthy allies who both fear and covet her power. As the last Speerly, and one of only a scant handful of shaman, she is a wild card that can find no comfortable home, and like all of the god-touched, her grip on reality is tenuous at best. The Burning God is a visceral finale that forces Rin into reckoning with the carnage wrought by her rash decisions and shifting alliances, even as she attempts to mentally retreat and wall herself off from the catastrophes Nikan will have to overcome in order to ever have any hope of recovering from the cataclysmic power struggles that have poisoned rivers, flooded towns, laid waste to crops, and displaced large portions of the population. The series maintains a strong military focus, with a series of battles that take Rin and her allies across the empire and back again.

Displaced and defeated, former Empress Su Daji would seem to have no place here in The Burning God, with her empire in ruins and her crown lost. Indeed, I expected a deeper focus on Hesperia, and perhaps an increased role for General Tarcquet or the Grey Company. But in reckoning with the cycle of history, and intergenerational trauma, Kuang brings Daji back in a new capacity, with the deposed Empress as a tantalizing potential source of shamanic power and information for an increasingly desperate Rin. With the power struggle between Rin and Nezha reignited by her break from his father’s Republic, Rin finds herself increasingly interested in the power struggles of the Trifecta, and how the Vipress became the last shaman standing, ruling the Nikara Empire alone. But it remains to be seen if Rin can grasp the cautionary tale of their downfall, or if she will simply succumb and repeat their mistakes in her quest for power. While fundamentally different characters, there are fascinating echoes between Rin and Daji, and their approaches to ruling.

The relationship at the heart of this final volume is the one between Rin and Kitay, her best friend and her anchor, and the one person who has never betrayed her. As she wins victories and gains power, she comes into responsibilities for which she is wholly unprepared, and reliant upon his logistical and strategic talents. Kitay also represents her greatest weakness; without him near, she cannot call the fire, and if he dies, so does she. For an increasingly isolated and paranoid general, such a bond is both a touchstone and a secret to be guarded at all costs. Kitay is also her conscience embodied, her voice of reason, the measured response that counterbalances her impulsive nature and more violent tendencies. In many ways, he is the key that keeps us following Rin deeper into madness; what does he see in her that inspires such loyalty?

Kuang brings her first trilogy to a close as it began, in fire and blood, and with many questions for which there are no easy answers or neat solutions. If Rin and her fiery god win, is tyranny inevitable? If Nezha and Hesperia triumph, does colonization and erasure follow? These are uncomfortable questions that do not lend themselves to a tidy conclusion, and the scope of Nikara history stretches beyond the final page with possibilities that are both tantalizing and terrifying, shadowed by the real Chinese history on which Kuang has been masterfully drawing throughout her epic series.

The Poppy War

The Dragon Republic 

Vampires Never Get Old

Cpver image for Vampires Never Get Old edited by Zoraida Cordova and Natalie C. ParkerEdited by Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker

ISBN 9781250230003

“There is no one way to write the vampire. After all, a being with the power to shape-shift should wear many faces and tell many tales.”

Vampires Never Get Old brings together a variety of stars from the world of young adult fiction to provide fresh takes on the vampire story, with a particular focus on diversity and inclusion. The collection consists of eleven short stories, each with their own spin on the vampire mythology. To each story the editors add a quick note on the aspects of the vampire tradition used, transformed, or subverted in that tale. The stories include a wide variety of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC protagonists, as well as a fat slayer and a vampire with a disability.

For unique form and dark and creepy vibes, I want to call out “Mirrors, Windows & Selfies” by Mark Oshiro. The story is written in the form of an online diary or blog, but the commenters perceive it as a work of ongoing fiction, which gains in popularity over time. The writer is a young vampire who was born, not made, and although I really hate this trope, I still enjoyed Oshiro’s execution. Cisco has been moved around the country his entire life by his vampire parents, but as he nears adulthood, he begins to question the secrecy and the rules, and wonders why exactly his parents have been keeping him hidden and isolated from vampire society.

Perhaps the most chilling tale is “In Kind” by Kayla Whaley, a dark revenge fantasy in which a disabled teenage girl is murdered by her father, an act which the press dubs a “mercy killing.” Grace then faces the choice about whether to use her new powers to punish her father for what he has done. The story is also notable in that while becoming a vampire makes Grace stronger and more powerful in many ways, it is not able to restore her ability to walk. Her vampirism is empowering, without being a miracle cure for her disability, which is a core part of her identity.

The funniest story belongs to Samira Ahmed, who contributes “A Guidebook for the Newly Sired Desi Vampire.” A brand new vampire wakes up alone in a dark warehouse, and has to undergo Vampire Orientation 101 by Vampersand, a newly minted vampire tech start up for young Indian vampires who have been unexpectedly turned by careless British vampire tourists. Filled with snark and anticolonial bite, this was the only story that made me laugh out loud.

Most of the stories stand alone well, but several had strong potential as novel starters. In particular, I would definitely read a f/f novel with a vampire and a slayer, something that Julie Murphy explores in “Senior Year Sucks,” and which Victoria Schwab also features in her tale, “First Kill.” However, the stand out in this regard was absolutely “The House of Black Sapphires” by Dhonielle Clayton, in which the Turner women return to New Orleans’ Eternal Ward after centuries away. Descended from vampires, but distinct, Eternals can only be killed by Shadow Barons, but none of the Turner girls have ever met one until they return to their mother’s home in New Orleans, and discover that their mother was once in love with a Shadow Baron herself. This story had atmosphere and world-building potential galore, and I would dearly love to read an entire novel set in this world.

Vampires Never Get Olds marks a delightful return to the mythology of vampires, filled with unique tales and fun little extra nuggets. Read through the author bios to find out each contributor’s favourite vampire, and check out the copyright page for a vampire-themed book curse! If like me you’ve been missing vampires, this collection might just quench your thirst, at least for a while.

For more vampires, you might also like:

Urban Fantasy Vampires

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Certain Dark Things 

Ten Things That Keep Me Coming Back to Kushiel’s Dart

Cover image for Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline CareyDisclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher.

Abandoned by her parents on the doorstep of the Night Court—home to the courtesans of Terre D’Ange—Phèdre is groomed for a life of service to Naamah in the City of Elua. But a red spot in her left eye marks her unfit to officially serve in the Night Court, so her marque is sold to the courtier Anafiel Delaunay, who raises her up to be a spy as well as a courtesan. Delaunay is also the only one to recognize what the red mote in her eye betokens; Phèdre is marked by Blessed Elua’s companion Kushiel, and she is an anguisette, doomed to take her pleasure in pain. Without knowing the depths in which she is swimming, Phèdre stumbles upon the key to a plot that threatens the Crown, and indeed Terre D’Ange itself.

Originally published in 2001, Tor recently announced they would be reprinting Phèdre’s Trilogy this summer, starting with Kushiel’s Dart in June, and then one per month to finish out the summer. On receiving my copy, I was amused to notice for the first time that the book had been compared to George R. R. Martin, a fact which meant nothing to me when I first read it in high school, at least seven years before I picked up Game of Thrones. I wrote a full-length review of this book back in 2017, the last time I reread it, so today I thought we’d do something a little different, and hit my top ten favourite things that keep me coming back to this series again and again. Warning: here there be spoilers! For a spoiler-free introduction, see my original review.

10. Terre D’Ange Kushiel’s Dart is a hefty 900 page epic, and Jacqueline Carey spends the better part of the first hundred and fifty pages using Phèdre’s education as an excuse for world-building. The D’Angelines are the scions of Blessed Elua, who was born of the co-mingled blood of the dying Yeshua ben Yosef and the tears of the Magdelene, and his companions, angels who turned from the service of the One God when he rejected Elua and turned him out to wander the Earth.

9. “Love as thou wilt” – The chief precept of Blessed Elua, and a governing principle for all D’Angelines is a breath of fresh air in the realm of epic fantasy, which often isn’t terribly concerned with consent. (CW: The Skaldi do not abide by this precept so the book isn’t perfect in this regard). And while it is nowhere mentioned in the first volume of the series, Carey later reveals that D’Angeline women do not conceive until they visit the temple of Eisheth and ask to do so!  

8. The Night Court – Along with the precept of Blessed Elua, the other half of the sex-positive foundation of this world lies in the Service of Naamah. Of those cast down from heaven to follow Elua, Naamah served by selling her body, and so in Terre D’Ange, courtesans are something akin to priestesses, practicing a holy art that is governed by custom and contract.

7. Alcuin nó Delaunay – Phèdre’s foster-brother and fellow pupil is her companion in the service of Anafiel Delaunay, and her conspirator in trying to unravel the mysterious history of their benefactor. More politically astute than Phèdre, but less well-suited to the service of Naamah, I maintain to this day that Alcuin deserved more!

6. Rolande de la Courcel – The Dauphin of Terre D’Ange died at the Battle of the Three Princes, destabilizing the Courcel succession, so we never meet him on the page, but his love affair with Anafiel Delaunay is a driving force behind the story. Delaunay and Prince Rolande met at the University of Tiberium, and their back story is a spin-off that I’ve never stopped wanting.

5. “All knowledge is worth having”Kushiel’s Dart is an epic fantasy centered on spies and courtesans; they deal in information, the subtle trade that underpins the royal court. Phèdre learns Caerdicci, the language of scholars, in the Night Court, and when she comes to Delaunay she is also schooled in Skaldi and Cruithne. Her facility with languages becomes as important as her courtesan’s wiles.

4. “That which yields is not always weak” – There are warriors aplenty in Kushiel’s Dart, men and women alike, but Phèdre nó Delaunay isn’t one of them. By the end of the book, Phèdre has been a spy, a courtesan, a slave, an ambassador, and a messenger, and she wins all her victories on her wits and her charms, rather than by might of arms.

3. Grainne mac Conor – Speaking of warrior women, the mightiest of them is the Lady of the Dalriada, who rules alongside her twin brother, Eamonn. As brash as her brother is cautious, Grainne takes Phèdre to her bed to make her brother jealous enough to go to war alongside the Cruithne, and then rides to battle at Troyes-le-Mont pregnant with her second child.

2. Drustan mab Necthana – There are two romances at the heart of this book, and one of them is the secret betrothal between Ysandre de la Courcel, and Drustan mab Necthana, the rightful Cruarch of Alba. The Cruithne are matrilineal, and Drustan was the heir to his uncle’s throne before it was usurped by his cousin, and he must reclaim it in order to win passage across the straights, and wed the Dauphine. Meanwhile in Terre D’Ange, Ysandre has rebuffed a succession of suitors to remain true to her promise to Drustan, even as her grandfather ages, and their grip on the crown becomes ever more perilous.

1. Joscelin Verreuil – The second sons of Siovale are sworn to the service of Cassiel, and the celibate Cassiline brothers are trained from the age of ten as elite bodyguards. We meet Joscelin when Delaunay contracts him to protect Phèdre, but the plot against them is deeper than anyone could guess. A Cassiline’s word is his bond, but Phèdre will test his vows again and again as their adventures take them across the known world. Candidly, the complex relationship between Phèdre and Joscelin is the best thing about this entire series–contracting a celibate warrior-priest to protect a courtesan goes about as well as you would expect!

If you’ve read Kushiel’s Dart, tell me about the parts you loved! I know there are at least a couple of fan favourites that I haven’t even mentioned here.

The Empire of Gold (The Daevabad Trilogy #3)

Cover image for The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakrabortyby S.A. Chakraborty

ISBN 978-0-06-267816-4

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

“I find that those who look on politics with contempt are usually the first to be dragged down by them.”

Daevabad has fallen to the machinations of Banu Manizheh, and her Afshin, Darayavahoush. Nahri and Ali have fled, leaving the city in the hands of a brutal conqueror who seems poised to be even crueler than the tyrant she overthrew. But Suleiman’s Seal was never meant to leave Daevabad, and the consequences reach across much of the magical world, stripping the daevas of their powers. Only Dara and Manizheh’s ifrit retain their magic, leaving the people of Daevabad helpless, though the Geziri and the shafit try to mount a resistance led by Zaynab al Qahtani. Even Ali’s mysterious marid powers seem to have been affected in strange ways, though perhaps this is because he now bears Suleiman’s Seal. Thrust unexpectedly into the human world, Ali and Nahri must decide whether to return to Daevabad and fight for the throne to which each of them might stake a claim.

While five years passed between The City of Brass and The Kingdom of Copper, Empire of Gold picks up in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Daevabad. After five years as a prisoner of the al Qahtanis, trapped in a political marriage to Ali’s brother Muntadhir, Nahri is finally free, and unexpectedly finds herself back in Cairo. Returned to her human home, and stripped of her Nahid powers, Nahri seriously considers letting Daevabad fade into memory, and apprenticing herself to her old apothecary friend Yaqub. Meanwhile, Ali’s thoughts turn to Ta Ntry, and the possibility of reuniting with his exiled mother, Queen Hatset. He has questions about his marid magic, and suspects that the answer lies in his Ayaanle heritage, which he has long been subsuming in favour of his father’s Geziri bloodline. But with Ghassan dead, and his djinn magic snuffed out, the water is calling to Ali in new ways. Neither Nahri nor Ali ever expected to be called to rule, but now the question of that potential responsibility weighs heavily on them as they look to an uncertain future.

One of the stand out features of this series has always been the complex dynamic S.A. Chakraborty created between the different magical beings of the world, and even within the ranks and classes of the djinn themselves. Those rivalries come to a head here, as Manizheh takes revenge for the deposed Nahids, having conquered Daevabad by unleashing a genocidal magic against the Geziri in The Kingdom of Copper. Though she has reclaimed the palace of her ancestors, and nominally rules the city, the various quarters remained locked tight against her, with the daevas fearing to trust such a brutal takeover, even by one of their own. Once, Manizheh was Ghassan’s prisoner, bent to his purposes, and fighting desperately to prevent the union she knew he desired. But while her past is tragic, she now she seems determined to visit that abuse upon others, willing to pay any price for power.

In the midst of all this, Dara takes center stage. As Manizheh’s long-trusted servant, and one of the only magical beings left in Daevabad, it is up to him to control the city his mistress has conquered. If he refuses, control falls to the conniving ifrit Aeshma, whose influence with Manizheh Dara already deeply mistrusts. Chakraborty delves deeper into Dara’s backstory, revealing the scene in which as a young Afshin, the Nahid council called him to Qui-zi, the massacre that would earn him the moniker Scourge. Dara may be even more hated in Daevabad than Manizheh herself, and it seems impossible for one person to hold the city against the inevitable uprising forever. Worse, Dara is tortured by the question of whether he made the wrong choice when he remained loyal to Manizheh rather than following Nahri. Manizheh seems to be turning ever further towards darkness as she seeks to replace the power she lost when Suleiman’s Seal slipped through her fingers. And Dara must face the question of what further horrors he is willing to perform in the name of the loyalty he swore to the Nahids long ago. Although a sympathetic character, Empire of Gold calls Dara to account for the orders he has willingly obeyed.

In the final volume of the Daevabad trilogy, S.A. Chakraborty delivers a whopping 784 page series ender that upends the established politics of Daevabad by delving into questions of family legacy, intergenerational trauma, monarchy, governance, genocide, authoritarianism and the distribution of power. Dara, Nahri, and Ali share narration through rotating perspectives with escalating cliffhangers, though many of Chakraborty’s other conniving, memorable characters appear as well as she brings this sprawling Islamic fantasy to its epic conclusion.

You might also like The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Come Tumbling Down (Wayward Children #5)

Cover image for Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuireby Seanan McGuire

ISBN 978-0-7653-9930-4

“Have you noticed that the doors come for us when we’re young enough to believe we know everything, and toss us out again as soon as we’re old enough to have doubts? I can’t decide whether it’s an infinite kindness or an incredible cruelty.”

In the fifth installment of the Wayward Children series, Seanan McGuire continues the story of Jack and Jill, twin sisters who found a doorway to another world in a trunk in their attic. The door opened onto the Moors, a world under a crimson moon where dark powers hold one another in a constant battle for balance. In Down Among the Sticks and Bones, we followed Jack and Jill through their door, and to their eventual expulsion from the Moors. In Every Heart a Doorway, we witnessed their bloody return to that world, and were left wondering about the consequences. Now Jill has snatched Jack’s body, and the twin sisters are locked in a battle for the future of their world.

At the heart of Come Tumbling Down is the nature of evil and monsters. Meditating on Jill’s deceptively innocent appearance, Christopher reflects that “Something about the way she’d wrapped her horror movie heart in ribbons and bows had reminded him of a corpse that hadn’t been properly embalmed, like she was pretty on the outside and rotten on the inside. Terrifying and subtly wrong.” Jack finds herself trapped inside this “charnel house” of a body, ostensibly identical to her own, and yet terrifyingly different. Coping with her OCD proves to be a particular challenge in these unique circumstances, and yet the battle must go on. Returning to Eleanor West’s school, Jack recruits several of her former classmates to help stop Jill before it is too late.

Thanks to the events of Beneath the Sugar Sky, it is great to have Sumi back amongst our adventurers. We know that sooner or later her door will come for her, and she will go back to Confection, but for now she joins her school friends on yet another forbidden quest. As a character who travelled to a Nonsense world, Sumi gets a lot of the best lines, coming out with bizarre yet accurate comparisons and strikingly observant insights. As someone who would almost certainly find a Logic world behind my own door, I always find her peculiar forthrightness strangely refreshing.

The other adventurers are Cora, mermaid heroine of Beneath the Sugar Sky, and Christopher, lost love of the Skeleton princess, and Kade, Goblin Prince in Waiting, and heir to Eleanor West’s school for wayward children like himself. They are none of them suited to the world of the Moors, but as heroes who once answered the call of their own doors, they are no less ready to answer the call of friend in need. It also hints at a school that might be very different under Kade’s management. Eleanor tries to persuade them from the quest, lamenting “I should have reminded you of the rules when Rini fell out of the sky. No quests. It’s so easy to become addicted to them, and so hard to break the habit once it takes hold.” But heroes are not so easily dissuaded.

Come Tumbling Down also draws some parallels to the previous installment, In an Absent Dream. Just as Lundy and Moon’s friendship is slowly poisoned by inequality and debt, Jack keeps saving Jill, even at a terrible cost to herself, and those around her. True, Sumi “got over” being dead at Jill’s hand with a little help from her friends, but Lundy and Loriel are never coming back.  Alexis will never be whole and healthy again, despite her resurrection. The outcome of Chester and Serena Walcott’s petty insistence on differentiating their twin daughters and pitting them against one another plays out on a grander and more terrible stage than those wayward parents could ever have imagined, leading the sisters into a final, fateful confrontation with inevitable casualties.

You might also like Temper by Nicky Drayden

In an Absent Dream (Wayward Children #4)

Cover image for In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuireby Seanan McGuire

ISBN 978-0-7653-9929-8

“You can’t save anyone if you neglect yourself. All you can do is fall slowly with them.”

One day, Katherine Victoria Lundy will be a teacher at Eleanor West’s school for wayward children. One day, she will help teach and guide the children who come back from impossible adventures, and spend every day hoping that their door will return to take them back to their true home. But once, a long time ago, it was Lundy who found an impossible door, one that came back for her again and again. But always, she had to remember the curfew; on her eighteenth birthday, the doors would close forever, and she would have to choose which side of it she would be on. Once, that choice would have been easy, and Lundy would have chosen Moon, the Archivist, and the magic of the Goblin Market without hesitation. But a bargain must always give fair value, and it wouldn’t be a bargain without a cost.

The Wayward Children series began in 2016 with Every Heart a Doorway, in which a series of murders took place at the school, including those of Sumi and Lundy. 2017’s Down Among the Sticks and Bones was a prequel, recounting Jack and Jill’s trip to the Moors before they landed at the school. Beneath the Sugar Sky (2018) was an impossible sequel, in which a dead girl’s unborn daughter arrives at the school looking for her mother, Sumi. In the fourth installment, Seanan McGuire takes us back further still, to Katherine Victoria Lundy’s quiet, 1960s suburban childhood. Friendless by virtue of her father’s being the school principal, Katherine is a self-sufficient girl who “keeps her own company” and finds her solace in books, until one day she looks up from Trixie Belden and the Black Jacket Mystery and finds an impossible door. I am probably not alone in feeling that of all the wayward children we have met so far, Lundy is the most like me, giving this installment a particular resonance.

The Goblin Market is the strictest and most fae-like of the portal worlds McGuire has presented Wayward Children readers with so far. The rules are clearly laid out, and with each trip through the door, Lundy becomes more bound to them. She is slowly growing out of the grace the world allows for children on their first, or even second visit. Above all, she must Be Sure. But if Lundy is well-suited for the Goblin Market, the same cannot be said of her best friend Moon, who was born to it, rather than chosen; it was her mother’s door, and she left her child there. Moon was the first person Lundy met when she came through her door, and that bond will never fade, but Moon only follows the rules because she fears punishment, and whenever Lundy isn’t around, she can’t seem to help herself getting into debt with the Market.

In an Absent Dream is fundamentally about unequal friendships. Differences that seem small and inconsequential when we are children grow with us until they overrun the relationship, and even a shared history can no longer bind us. Lundy keeps paying Moon’s debts, even when she is warned that Moon will one day resent owing her so much, even when it comes at Lundy’s own danger and expense. “No one serves their friends by grinding themselves into dust on the altar of compassion,” but Lundy seems determined to try. She binds herself tightly to those few she chooses, and remains loyal to the bitter, inevitable end. Even more so than Down Among the Sticks and Bones, In an Absent Dream has a tragic sense of inevitability. We know that Lundy will eventually make a bad bargain, and we know the end it will lead her to. But, as ever, it is the journey that provides the fascination.