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Novella Reviews: Wayward Children 4-6 by Seanan McGuire

Book Info: In an Absent Dream (#4)

Rating: 5/5 stars! (Yes, a solid 5/5 – a rare occurrence for me)

This was by far my favorite installment of the series. Not only did it follow whom I consider the most interesting character introduced in the first book (among many), it also told her story in a perfectly-paced, completely absorbing manner. It doesn’t hurt matters that this was also my favorite world that we’ve been to thus far – a “goblin” market where everything is a transaction, and committing to more than you can handle comes with some serious consequences. To be totally honest, I’m not sure where the “goblin” aspect factors in, surmising that it’s based on lore I’m not familiar with. Regardless, it was vibrant and eerie and I loved every moment. Several of these novellas have given me food for thought – introducing ideas beyond the scope of the book that have me pondering well beyond the pages – but this is the first one that really made me feel something for the characters. It was beautiful and tragic and lovely and heart-wrenching, and if I wasn’t already committed to reading the rest of the series before, I certainly am now.

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Book Info: Come Tumbling Down (#5)

Rating: 2/5 stars

Truthfully, anything would’ve seemed second-rate to the In an Absent Dream (the book right before this one), but then take into account how much I already didn’t love this set of characters and how less than enthusiastic I was to spend more time with them and, well, here we are.

I had a lot of issues with character plausibility and consistency of behavior in Down Among the Sticks and Bones, but those luckily didn’t bother me much here. I initially liked that it was going to involve more of the wayward children, but they really didn’t contribute much to the plot. No, indeed, to me they felt like just extra bodies moving from place to place without any real purpose other than to produce a couple of awkward setups for the next novellas (and weird additions to the world that didn’t seem to fit at all. Contrived). With the previous book, I read it slowly, savoring every word and hoping it would continue forever. In this one, I found myself speed reading, impatient to just get it over with “for crying out loud.” The author and I obviously differ in our preferences. These characters seem to be her favorites, as she only narrated the two audiobooks associated with them. And who knows? Maybe the change in voice and lack of the beautifully subtle character nuances achieved by the other narrator is the underlying reason why I’m not loving these as much. Whatever the reason though, I’m hoping we’ll lay this world to rest for a while and focus on the many other cool prospects out there.

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Book Info: Across the Green Grass Fields (#6)

Rating: 3/5 stars

In most of the novellas, I’ve really enjoyed the backstories for the characters where we get a glimpse at the traumas they’ve faced that led them to their doors. Occasionally though I think it takes too much time away from the world-exploration aspect of the plot. While this was actually my favorite backstory yet, I think it came at the sacrifice of the world we eventually got to visit. But I’ll get there in a moment.

These books have a lot of extra meaning for me. They’re incredibly inclusive and talk openly about issues children face when they don’t conform to our society’s outdated definition of what it means to be “normal.” It was kind of a weird experience to see these young girls deal with “clicks” and snap judgments from a Queen Bee at a very young age. You usually don’t see representation like that in media until the teen years (Mean Girls) but things like ostracizing and bullying by ignoring people starts sooo much earlier than we’re led to believe. It did for me, and so even just reading about a hint of what it’s like going through that was oddly therapeutic – kids do horrible things to other kids and oftentimes it’s not even for a clear reason. It’s most definitely not because the victim did anything “wrong.”

I’ve mentioned I love the bit of psychological evaluation I can do while reading this series – it keeps me so engaged. It’s not a preachy series by any means, nor does it set out to send a “after school special” message. These are just the personal meanings I’VE gotten out of it, and thought I’d actually share a little more of my thoughts in this review.

Before I forget, I’d also like to mention that this is the first time in the series where I started looking at the doors as saving graces – things that come around because the kids desperately need them – and not just unfortunate hazards that befall them. They’re not at nefarious as I’d once thought them, and it has given the series just a little more of a spark.

So the world we visited: by all accounts, it should’ve been one of my favorites, and indeed it did a good job introducing the fun (the unicorns, is all I’m sayin’). I liked the world itself and the types of creatures in it. I love what it meant to the main character to be there.

What I didn’t like was the conflict. It felt so thin. So incredibly unbelievable. And considering all the weird stuff that goes on in these worlds that I just accept without a blink, that’s quite the criticism. It felt like an afterthought. Not well-imagined. And almost a throwaway effort. So while the first of the book had a lot of substance and was bordering on another high rating for the series, the second half brought it back down to moderately good. I’ll take it, but I wish there’d been more.

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by Niki Hawkes

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