Novella Reviews: Wayward Children 1-3 by Seanan McGuire

Book Info: Every Heart a Doorway (book #1)

Rating: 4/5 stars

I’d been eyeballing this series since a friend recommended it to me a couple of years ago. I’d thought they were full-length novels, but was pleased to discover the series as bite-sized novella chunks. Very satisfying.

This first book could’ve taken a lot of directions. One of my favorite things about it is that I was never quite sure where the author was going with the story. Seanan McGuire is, most prominently, an author I look to for the unconventional. I loved that most of this book took place at a boarding school for these wayward children. School settings are my favorite, and this had enough “learning cool new things” components for it to be a good one. Then the tale took on an unexpected murder mystery, and I found myself completely on board.

Granted, the magic of this first book was more in what it promised in future books rather than just on its own merit. It had a lot of great setup, and the anticipation for what’s to come is why I was left feeling really positively about it.

Book Info: Down Among the Sticks and Bones (book #2)

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

So far, this was my least favorite of the series. While I continued to like the writing voice and overall concept, I had a lot of issues with pacing and plot decisions.

I was very interested in the backstory of these two characters, and appreciate the almost nursery-rhyme presentation of the narrative early on. However, the beginning was a bit long-winded, especially considering readers already knew what was going to happen from the first book.

Then we get to the new realm, and that’s really where my disappointment in how it was executed manifested. First off, the world itself wasn’t very well-realized. There were enough atmospheric details and explanations that my brain could sort of create a picture, but the narrow focus on just immediate characters made it feel like we were walking around in little bubbles. It didn’t seem like a real place with a functioning society. It felt like a big old castle with only three occupants and a town with only two or three folk, until the mob scene drew them out of the forest. Or wherever they were hiding. I’m finding it hard to explain, but essentially, the world-building was really thin, and more there for overall atmosphere creation than anything else.

One of the most compelling things about this series is allowing me to psychoanalyze these very troubled characters and try to figure out what circumstances and trauma cause them to behave the way they do. This opportunity is probably why I’m so tickled with the series so far, because it’s giving my brain a lot of extra food for thought (keeping me engaged). Based on what we know about these characters so far in the series, their behavior at the end of the book did not make a lot of sense to me. Both girls felt wildly out of character, and it bothered me enough that in my Buddy Read for the story, we spent a lot of time discussing what would’ve made more sense to have happen. The biggest dock to my rating was from this unsatisfying inconsistency of character.

However, this is just one facet of the story McGuire is building, so I was still eager to pick up the next book, despite some objections with this one.

Book Info: Beneath the Sugar Sky

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

I’d no idea what to expect next. Would the series take all the characters in the first book and use the following novellas to tell their backstories like they did in Down Among the Sticks and Bones? I was okay with that trajectory, but feared I’d miss the boarding school element too much to stay invested. Luckily for me, Book 3 managed to progress the storyline developing at the boarding school while also giving some great backstory tidbits and other world exploration.

It was fantastic.

Or should I say “fantastical” because we got to explore our first nonsense world in this novella.

I, for one, am definitely more at home in the logical worlds, but since the beauty of this installment was more about the characters and the sense of adventure and camaraderie, it didn’t bother me too much (I have a hard time with the ridiculous in books, which is why my stint into Piers Anthony, Pratchett, and Douglass Adams was very, very brief). Overall I love how it progressed the story in multiple worlds and how it started a convergence of realms.

Additionally, Beneath the Sugar Sky had a number of instances where it promoted female body positivity which was integrated naturally, feeling very organic to the character profiles, and 100% freaking fantastic. It also explored the idea that your worth as a person is made up of so many components that aren’t always tangible or visible things, and continually appreciating those things rather than focusing on external appearance and how society indicates you “should” be can be a very powerful shift in mindset. It’s not ignoring the stigmas around you, because that’s nigh impossible in the culture we live in, it’s allowing reality to be what it is and still have a quiet confidence in why you are special. Cora is definitely a character I’ll have my eyes on going forward. Loved.

Overall, this series (so far, books 1-3) has been an absolute highlight to my year, and I can’t wait to explore more. I appreciate that I’m getting much more out of these books than just your basic portal fantasy story. I’ve come away with so much unexpected food for thought, which is incredibly exciting.

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by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: A Tyranny of Queens by Foz Meadows

A Tyranny of Queens by Foz Meadows

Title: A Tyranny of Queens

Author: Foz Meadows

Series: Manifold Worlds #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Saffron Coulter has returned from the fantasy kingdom of Kena. Threatened with a stay in psychiatric care, Saffron has to make a choice: to forget about Kena and fit back into the life she’s outgrown, or pit herself against everything she’s ever known and everyone she loves.

Meanwhile in Kena, Gwen is increasingly troubled by the absence of Leoden, cruel ruler of the kingdom, and his plans for the captive worldwalkers, while Yena, still in Veksh, must confront the deposed Kadeja. What is their endgame? Who can they trust? And what will happen when Leoden returns? -Goodreads

The Review:

Reading A Tyranny of Queens positively changed some of my overall impressions of An Accident of Stars (book 1). You see, the story arc and general issues with pacing in the first book (where I thought a lot of things were inconsequential) actually came full circle in this second book, completing the story. I’m now looking at it as one full novel separated into two parts and, as a whole, the story ultimately provided me with all the components I felt were missing in reading book one as a standalone. Honestly, I don’t think that’s necessarily the best marketing strategy, but luckily for me I was committed to finishing, so no harm done. It does make it a bit harder to recommend though.

That’s not to say the first book was bad, by any means – it had engaging (LGBT friendly) characters who carried the story and were just as strong in Tyranny of Queens. The world-building was good, if a little shy of its potential (but still creative enough to keep me intrigued). And it gave the religion and politics a good base to expand on in the second book (which it did, kind of).

Tyranny of Queens felt like it had more separate POVs, and I did find myself more interested in some than others. However, when they all started to merge again, the story really gained momentum. I have to say, though, as interesting as the characters and the story were, I kind of expected more travel and adventure from a self-proclaimed “Portal Fantasy.” I basically wanted a Stargate experience. I’m hoping Meadows continues to write in this saga with a heavier focus on exploration. The cover image world was really cool and exactly the kind of stuff I was after, but we didn’t get do spend a lot of “page time” there, which is a shame.

One thing I’d like to mention about the author is how impressed I was with her writing (as in, the components that make up her sentences). She’s really good at imagery and nuances within a scene, such as facial expressions and gestures, and I found myself admiring how well she could “articulate” her thoughts. It’s hard to describe what I’m talking about (ironically), but every time I’ve seen other writers try to add what she does, it always comes off as overworked. So, issues with story components aside, the writing gets an “A” from me.

Series status: Up to Date. If Meadows writes more in this world, I’ll definitely read it, but at the moment I’m sitting satisfied with what felt like a completed duology (with potential for more but no real loose ends). I’m going to mark this as a finished series until anything else pops up on my radar.

Recommendations: this “portal” fantasy is a great pick if you want something heavily character-driven. It’s also LGBT friendly, which is always awesome to see on the market. I’d venture in with the mindset that you’ll have to read both books to get the most out of experience.

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by Niki Hawkes