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Wayward Children Part 2
by Seanan McGuire

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted November 26, 2020
Edits and Addendum on December 6 & 18

4. In an Absent Dream
5. Come Tumbling Down
6. Across the Green Grass Fields

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I'm behind on this series. It has been almost two years since In an Absent Dream was published. It's the fourth of Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children stories. Another came out in January of this year, with the sixth due in January 2021. In case you haven't read any of the previous stories, nor read my reviews, refer back to this page to get up to speed. The main character here is Lundy (first name Katherine), who first visits her portal world, the Goblin Market, when she is eight. She does return to the 'real' world after eight days, or at least that is the period of time she was missing, but time works differently on the other side of a door. In this case Lundy had had enough time to form several friendships, and lose one of those friends, before she felt the need to return to her family. At this time I cannot recall the details of Lundy's part in any of the previous stories, a good reason to re-read all of them one of these days. They are very good and they are quick reads, but that has to wait for now.

Lundy found her door because she was always isolated, without friends, always with her nose in a book, and that's the way she liked it. She never learned how to make friends, or even why she would want to. On the last day of second grade she was reading on her way home from school, letting her feet find their own way, when they inexplicably took a left turn when they should have gone right. When she comes to her senses she finds herself on familiar ground, a wooded area just outside of town, only there is a strange tree in the middle of the path where no tree had ever been before. The wide range of leaf colors was just one way this tree was unlike any other. It also had a door in the trunk. The reason I'm calling her Lundy as opposed to using her first name is due to one of the rules she learns on her path to the Goblin Market. "Names have power." Everyone there uses an assumed name. The first person she encounters is Moon, whom she thinks has woven feathers into her hair, but in truth Moon is slowly transforming into a bird. Moon tries to get her to understand some of the rules, and also takes her to meet the Archivist who will also help. When she gives her name as Lundy, she suspects the Archivist is familiar with the name. She wonders if her older brother had ever found a door to this place, or maybe some other family member.

Based on some of the other worlds we've seen, I'd say the Goblin Market is either a Virtue, or High Logic world. Its other rules are "ask for nothing," "always give fair value," "take what is offered and be grateful," and "remember the curfew." Lundy doesn't learn what the last one means until it is almost too late. As for the others, everything a person does in the Goblin Market either gains them favors or imposes a debt. A phrase from our world comes to mind: "Let the market decide." Lundy returns on multiple other occasions, and in some cases learns she has accrued debt owed to others, but if she gives fair value through her actions those debts may be forgiven. On one of her return visits to her family, she tries to explain to her father why the Goblin Market is her true home. "If you give everyone fair value, no one wants. If no one wants, no one has to take. The Market makes sure we don't take advantage of each other." That is a good sentiment, exemplary even, if only one could be sure what controls the Market, who gets to decide what is fair value. Every time Lundy returns to the 'real' world she intends it to be temporary, but on one occasion is compelled to spend more time with her younger sister, to become her friend. Can she in good conscience abandon her family once again, this time forever?

I won't reveal her decision on that, but instead invite you to step through the door and experience the story for yourself. Recommended, with my only reservation being, as with the other stories, each has a limited view. We don't learn the details of Lundy's other family member who had visited the Goblin Market, nor why they decided not to stay there. It's possible there were several of her ancestors who had visited, some may have had stayed, perhaps she had met them without realizing it. It's clear that even if it was a hereditary thing, the embracing of a portal world was highly subjective, each would decide their own fate.

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Posted December 6, 2020
I finally got to Come Tumbling Down nearly a year after it was published, thanks to a free giveaway from tor.com. I had been planning on borrowing it from the library when they made that announcement early last week. Unfortunately, it's my least favorite of the stories so far, but that does not mean I don't recommend it. It could turn out to be someone else's favorite. The second and fourth stories are best, since they concentrate on only one or two characters as they discover their portal world. Here, several of the other children at Eleanor West's school accompany Jack Wolcott back through a door into The Moors, and since several of them have no idea how to act in that world, they endanger the others. Jack should not have allowed Cora to accompany them, since the danger for her lay in the Sea of the Drowned Gods, quite a bit different from the waters with which she was familiar in her portal world, The Trenches.

Another negative is that the nature of science and magic in The Moors seemed capricious and malleable, whatever the story required rather than being rational and consistent. Of course, part of that may have to do with my poor memory of previous stories, which includes the fates of various characters. Several have died but been brought back to life, including Sumi, and for the life of me I cannot recall when, how, and why that happened. The others who have died include Jill Wolcott, twice I believe, and Alexis, Jack's girlfriend who had been born in The Moors, who had also died and been resurrected at least twice. Jack's reversing the previous body-switching with Jill seemed too easy, but there was also an implication it wasn't completely successful, but confirmation of that may have to wait for later. I have an ARC of the next story, and have avoided any mentions of it. I'm hoping it concentrates on another individual discovering their world, rather than a combined quest. Besides, Eleanor continually warns against quests, but the children, while respecting Eleanor, are not as inclined to take her advice as they were when younger.

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Posted December 18, 2020
I received an advance e-book of Across the Green Grass Fields from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. It will be published next month, January 12. It is in the vein of the second and fourth titles, following one person as they find their door, and the adventures they find on the other side. No mention of Eleanor West's school, nor any of the other children we've previously met. There had been speculation that individuals found worlds suited to their needs, but that couldn't be the case for all, since some were so traumatized by their ordeal they did not wish to leave the real world again. Regan loved horses, which is common for many girls, and while it wasn't revealed earlier, she may have also enjoyed stories of unicorns and other mythical creatures. After revealing a secret to her best friend one day at school, that friend is repulsed, and Regan runs away, intending to take the long way home through the woods and along a creek that runs behind her house. Instead, she encounters a gnarled tree, two trees actually, which have twined themselves together, with what looks like a door in the midst of their trunks. The world Regan stumbles into (with the door disappearing after she's through) is known as the Hooflands. All the creatures there have hooves, the first she encounters being a unicorn.

These are not magical unicorns though. They're rather stupid, prone to get in trouble if their centaur herders don't keep them from harm. They are raised for their meat and leather, which is used for clothing and other things, their horns of no particular value. All of the centaurs Regan meets are female, and all but one are adults. She becomes close friends with Chicory, the only teenager in the group. She spends at least a year with them, then they travel to Fair, to sell their herd, buy or trade for other needed goods, and for finding mates. Other creatures in this world are fauns, satyrs, minotaurs, and hippogriffs, which centaurs accept as fellow people, and along with unicorns, other herd animals are sheep and cattle, or at least close to the real world versions with which Regan is familiar. Humans are rare and special, with legends saying humans only come to the Hooflands to be heroes, to save the world from an evil, then once their job is done they disappear. At Fair, a faun and a minotaur kidnap Regan, and later she overhears them saying it was at the direction of Queen Kagami. The Queen is said to be a kirin, although no one has ever seen her. She hides in her castle, giving orders to her minions from behind a heavy curtain. Regan is able to escape her captors, reunites with her centaur family, and they flee to the north. After several years of exile, Regan starts to waver in her conviction of not believing in fate or destiny. Unbeknownst to her, the centaurs have been grooming her for the role of hero. She sets off alone to find the Queen's castle, but is later befriended by two other creatures, which all the "civilized" consider monsters; a kelpie named Gristle, and the peryton Zephyr. But she alone must enter the castle to confront the Queen.

I won't reveal what she finds there, nor the secret that so infuriated her friend that caused Regan to run away. This would be a good start for the series, a generic portal fantasy, sort of a cross between Wonderland and Oz. One could then follow up with the first story. I cannot recall if Regan was mentioned in any of the other stories, but that's just my poor memory. It's beautifully written, full of the wonders of great discoveries, but also poignant with emotion. When Regan learned the truth about herself, she was both angry with her parents, but also aware of why they had waited to tell her. She learns deep truths from them, as well as from her centaur friends, and from the "monsters." She in turn imparts wisdom to them. One reason she was able to interact with and gain the help of Gristle and Zephyr, when at first it surprised her they could speak and understand her, was that she was "polite enough to listen" to them. We don't know if what she promised them came to pass in the Hooflands, because immediately after her encounter in the castle, a door appeared for her to return to the world. Six years had passed. Regan had grown taller, leaner, stronger, and definitely braver and wiser. I'd like to follow her story if Seanan ever cares to write it. We don't even know how her parents reacted to her return. The story ends abruptly as Regan opens the backdoor to enter her old house. There would be later challenges, perhaps trauma and depression, in an effort to fit back into her old life. But Regan would be prepared, since she had already learned that "the world has never traded in 'easy' when it didn't have to."

 

Related Links:
The first three Wayward Children stories. (Every Heart a Doorway, Down Among the Sticks & Bones, Beneath the Sugar Sky)
Seanan's Official Website
Her bibliography at FantasticFiction.com

 

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Author
Seanan McGuire

Published
2019-2021

Awards
Absent Dream was finalist for Hugo & World Fantasy

Amazon Links:
Absent Dream
Tumbling Down
Green Grass

Bookshop Links:
Absent Dream
Tumbling Down
Green Grass

A purchase through our links may earn us a commission.