I’m about to depart for the airport to pick up my best beloved and bring her back home after a week long absence, which means I’m going to be tied up with driving for the next six hours (it’s OK, it’s worth it). I’m going to recommend some reading for you while I’m occupied.
I was blown away by Every Heart A Doorway, by Seanan McGuire. It’s a genuinely original fantasy story that steals from a lot of familiar fantasy tropes. You know there are all these stories about kids who are magically transported to a strange and unfamiliar world, like Narnia or Oz or Wonderland? What if this was a relatively common occurrence, with many strange worlds that are much weirder or scarier than the familiar fantasy lands? And most importantly, what happens to the children who have been shaped in their formative years by alien places with inhuman residents?
That’s the focus of the story: these children would be really different, with a different sense of self and different yearnings and different behaviors, and they’ve returned to our culture, which can’t even deal with something as mundane and normal as gay kids. What you find is that most of the parents of these children can’t cope and want to somehow reshape and indoctrinate the children to be more ‘conventional’, causing all sorts of misery for everyone involved. The lucky ones find themselves at a school in this story, run by a woman who had stumbled through a portal to a fantasy land and returned, who now runs her home as a refuge for these strange children.
So the main character, Nancy, is ace, and this is a minor metaphor for her true strangeness, which is that she lived in a world of ghosts who disliked the business of the living, so she has learned to retreat into statue-like stillness. The character I identified with most was Jack, who was trained on a world of mad scientists and horrible experimentation. Jack, by the way, is a girl — try not to impose your gender expectations on any of the people in the book, because you’ll probably get them wrong, or at best will be focusing on irrelevancies.
Also don’t think that a school that favors tolerance and openness will be free of tension and conflict. The whole story is about the way all these different people, different to a degree much greater than anything we experience in everyday life, have to struggle to resolve those differences, and how unhappiness can find a home anywhere you let it.
It’s fabulously well-written and thoughtful — it’s not really escapist fare. It’s also the first in a series which I’m looking forward to. Also, this is not your usual fantasy story that inevitably gets drawn out into an overlong trilogy of ten books or whatever. The main characters in this one achieve resolution of their various conflicts, for good or ill (no spoilers, but for some there are no happy endings, and for others, what they consider a happy ending might not make you happy at all), and I think the next book will focus on different kids or different sides of the story. I don’t know! Isn’t that wonderful when you find a book that doesn’t always trundle down familiar tracks?