Title: Every Heart a Doorway
Author: Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children
Genre: Magic Realism, and Queer Fiction
Publisher: Tor Books
Pages/Word Count: 176 pages
Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
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.
Seanan McGuire has written a new twist on a couple of tropes that had been visited a few too many times. What happens to the children who are the heroes of so many fantasy books after they return home – changed. How does someone deal with the concept that they used to be special in a good way but are now just damaged? Seanan McGuire places these children in a boarding school for Exceptional Children but unlike Hogwarts or Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters that train the children to become wizards or superheroes, Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children helps them cope with having lost the capacity to be magical.
One of the ideas that I enjoyed about Every Heart a Doorway is the breadth of the experiences the children have gone through. Some of the children would be welcome back but they’ve lost the path to their most authentic selves. Others were expelled from their stories for being an authentic self who didn’t fit within the confines of that world – notably a young man who embraces his transsexual identity within a world that wanted him to be female. There are other homes for the children who never wish to return to the lands of magic.
Some worlds sounded delightful while others are places of horror. Nancy, the main character, is a goth who lived in one of the lands of the dead. She describes one of the banquets in the Underworld.
“She had tasted unicorn at one of the feasts, and gone to bed with a mouth that still tingled from the delicate venom of the horse-like creature’s sweetened flesh. But mostly, there had been the silver cups of pomegranate juice, and the feeling of an empty stomach adding weight to her stillness. Hunger had died quickly in the Underworld. It was unnecessary, and a small price to pay for the quiet, and the peace, and the dances; for everything she’d so fervently enjoyed.”
Isn’t the writing lovely? While the description is ornate there actually isn’t anything that is extraneous. To take one phrase: silver is the metal connected to the moon, pomegranate is connected to the story of Persephone who was trapped in the Underworld for six months of the year due to her having eaten six pomegranate seed. Her writing gives the feel of Victorian fiction without the sentences actually being too convoluted to follow.
The plot is a murder mystery that is done to the standards of Dame Agatha Christie. I didn’t suspect the killer until the reveal at which point it was obvious. Like a good Jewish joke, the revelation changes your own understanding of what was happening. What had been nonsensical is perfectly logical when you see things as there are not how you assume they should be.
The underlying metaphor of Every Heart a Doorway is that every life has a different key to unlock it. Different people have different needs and different opportunities. It’s OK if your life isn’t what other people want for you. Sometimes you grow up by embracing your dreams and sometimes you grow up by discarding your dreams. Sometimes your actions can destroy your hopes and you have to learn how to deal.
Sometimes you can choose to become who you are.
John Allenson is a pen name for someone who has a horribly insulting real life name he does not use on social media.
He has had a long process in trying to be an author but may actually be making some progress.
He’s a gender-queer Jew who lives in Toronto.