A Tunnel in the Sky

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Wayward Children #3
by Seanan McGuire

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted January 1, 2023

7. Where the Drowned Girls Go
8. In Mercy, Rain
9. Skeleton Song
10. Lost in the Moment and Found

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The first six stories in this series collectively won a Hugo for Best Series last year at Chicon 8, but even before that announcement Seanan had written two more in the sequence. Another was published about a month and a half afterwards, with one more due January 10. This page will cover all four; I received a free e-book of the latter from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Refer back to this page if you are not familiar with this series yet, and here for my take on stories 4-6.

Cora Miller was the sensitive, overweight girl whose portal world was The Trenches, where she became a mermaid. Back in our world she is most comfortable when wet, either in her bathtub or the school's turtle pond. She was almost lost to the Drowned Gods of The Moors when she went there with Jack Wolcott and others. Since then she has been depressed due to her fear that if she ever made it back to The Trenches, which she wishes to do, the Drowned Gods might be able to follow her there. She is continually plagued with nightmares that they will also find her in this world. She learns about a different school, the Whitethorn Institute, which claims to be able to help wayward children throw off their trauma, remain in this world, and be content with that. Eleanor West cautions Cora that she doesn't think it is the right place for her, but Cora insists, her family agrees, so Eleanor realizes she has to let Cora go. After all, Eleanor West's School for Wayward Children is not a prison. What happens when Whitethorn proves that it is?

Too many things at Whitethorn strike Cora as excessive and intimidating, perhaps even more traumatic than her recurring dreams. Most of the other children act very stiff and regimented. The wake up alarm is at 5:25am each morning, the students reacting with military-like precision, which leads to friction since Cora is slow to wake, slow to dress, and very casual about almost everything. Regan Lewis, whom we met in the previous novella (Across the Green Grass Fields), is also at Whitethorn, on the verge of graduating just as Cora arrives. During the morning announcement on Cora's second day, Regan is to acknowledge how Whitethorn has helped her cope, to prepare her to go back to her family, to renounce her portal world. Instead, she breaks down crying, unable to finish her speech. She is then segregated from the other students, supposedly to ponder on her mistakes. Cora is surprised when a new arrival is one of her friends from West's school, Onishi Sumi, whose goal is to rescue Cora and escape from Whitethorn. But it won't be easy, since they are completely surrounded by a high wall, with broken glass embedded in the stone, as well as electrified wire.

Several girls in Cora's dorm room oppose the idea of getting out, while a couple are sympathetic, but unable to believe it can be done. It takes the discovery of the headmaster's true nature, as well as the provenance of the various matrons, to change a few minds, along with a special power possessed by Regan to make the escape work. The next three stories do not mention Whitethorn at all, so I'm not sure if it will figure into any others in the future. Seanan has at least one other spin-off from another book series, so she may have ideas of making Whitethorn another series altogether, but I'm not sure I'm interested in that, unless it leads to its total destruction. Whitethorn is as evil as any Underworld or Wickedness experienced by wayward children. The only reason I liked the conclusion to this story is that Cora, Sumi, Regan, and a few others do make their escape.


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"In Mercy, Rain" is a novelette first published online at Tor.com. E-books from various sources are also available. None of this series has been presented sequentially; the first one began in media res, the others cover events both before and after that. This story shows a different perspective on Jack (Jaqueline) Wolcott's portal adventure, which was teased in the first story, then elaborated more fully in the second. The first is the only one I've read twice, and my memory is vague on several of the others at this time. I know we learned of Alexis, who would become Jack's girlfriend, but some details may have been withheld until this story.

Jack is an assistant to Dr. Bleak, who is reminiscent of Victor Frankenstein. She helps him with his experiments, even doing some of her own operations as well, including reconstructing a work horse from parts of other dead animals. On a dark and stormy night a man and woman come to the Windmill with the body of their daughter, insisting that Bleak must bring her back to life. They incur a great debt in order to pay for Bleak's services, and by the time Alexis has been revived Jack is already in love. I can't remember what about that situation hadn't already been revealed, all the more reason to re-read this series again. Next time I'm making comprehensive notes to keep all the characters and their adventures straight. I read this in less than an hour, and recommend you click the link to Tor to read for yourself, even if you haven't read any of the others.


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"Sing to me of Mariposa, oh mi calaquitas,
Sing to me of the honeyed sky and the fields of endless gold.
Sing to me of butterflies, oh mi calaquitas,
Sing to me of the dreaming days and the nights as yet untold."

"Skeleton Song" is a short story, again first appearing at Tor.com, but e-books are available too. I read it in less than 20 minutes, but it's not one I would recommend unless you have read at least the first and third stories. Christopher Flores went to a portal world known as Mariposa. Imagine Dia de los Muertos every day of the year. The skeleton people live underground in the catacombs, only coming to the surface at night. They decorate their bones with colors derived from plants, butterflies, birds, and fish. Why Christopher found a door to Mariposa is puzzling, but it proved to be a place he loved, and wished to return to. A world full of living skeletons seems like it would be a morbid place, but Christopher found it to be inspiring and romantic, due to the skeleton people's songs of their history and their future. It also didn't hurt that the Princess of Mariposa, the Skeleton Girl he falls in love with, loves him in return, and wants him to stay. Why he lost that chance may have to wait for another story.


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I've mentioned before that I have preferred the stories that concentrated on individual portal adventures. That's not to say the others that feature multiple characters interacting aren't good too, but the individual stories, which include the second, fourth, sixth, and eighth novellas, all could be read as stand alones, and/or serve as an introduction to the series. They are similar in nature to Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, or The Wizard of Oz. The discovery of a mysterious and magical world separate from what we've all assumed to be the only reality available. Just having finished Lost in the Moment and Found I am tempted to say it is my favorite of the series, although I might reassess when I get the chance to re-read them. All have dealt with heavy themes of trauma, discrimination, isolation, or rejection. I may be mistaken, but I think this is the first for which Seanan included a cautionary note at the beginning, as well as an introduction obviously written to her younger self. Seanan wanted to be sure readers were aware of the situation going in, but she also assures us that before anything serious could actually happen, Antsy runs.

Antoinette "Antsy" Ricci was briefly in the previous novella as Cora's roommate before she left for the Whitethorn Institute. I cannot recall if she appeared in any of the previous stories. When Antsy was five she witnessed her father's death by heart attack. That trauma would remain with her forever I suspect, but in less than six months her mother was dating another man, followed quickly by a proposal, their marriage, and a pregnancy. It didn't matter that she had told her mother she did not like Tyler, even though she could not quite articulate the reasons. She relented though, telling her mother of course she wanted her to be happy, and to remarry if that is what it would take. Still, her uneasiness about Tyler persisted. As the pregnancy progressed Antsy was expected to do more of the chores, even at six years old. But that also gave Tyler a chance to drive a wedge between Antsy and her mother, telling her to do things that ran counter to her mother's previous instructions, which led to her mother accusing her of lying when she told her that was what Tyler told her to do, and he said the opposite. After the birth of her baby sister they moved to a larger house, which Antsy mistakenly thought would give her more room to avoid Tyler. Instead, what it meant was more opportunity for Tyler to treat her in ways that made her uncomfortable farther from the eyes and ears of her mother.

Antsy runs away with what few clothes and food she can stuff into her backpack, along with $20, a recent birthday gift. She walks through the residential area until she gets to the main road, the one she saw every day on the way to school. She needed to find a place that would let her use the phone to call her paternal grandmother, who she knew would come to pick her up, no questions asked. She shies away from the big supermarket, its bright lights reminding her too much of the Target where her father had died. She spies a thrift shop, Anthony & Sons Trinkets and Treasures, which intrigued her since she always loved thrift stores. She is puzzled why someone had written "Be Sure" in marker at the top of the door frame, but she opens the door anyway. What she finds inside is the biggest collection of objects she had ever seen, some of which she had no idea as to their identity and purpose. She would later learn the real name of the store was the Shop Where the Lost Things Go. I am not going to tell you about the person (and other creature) she meets inside, and not even about the adventures she has when she goes through various Doors that appear suddenly and mysteriously. And I won't tell you about the terrible truth she discovers too late. Maybe not too late for her, but possibly too late to help anyone else who might happen to wander into the shop. Those others may come from other realities, since the Shop is apparently a nexus between multiple portal worlds.

After more than two years (subjectively) she finally finds the door back to her world. She has learned many lessons, grown cautious of things that seem too good to be true, and is wise well beyond her years. Due to her experiences she now has an ability to find lost things, one of which she realizes is herself. But by listening to the noises in her head she is directed to the place where she might be found. From money gained from finding and returning a lost cat, she goes to the bus station, purchases a ticket, and gets off the bus at the place she somehow knows is her destination. She walks up a long drive and knocks on the door of Eleanor West's Home For Wayward Children. She is home, and found.

Last year I posted a quote on Facebook, then shared that memory a few days ago, and it hit home again reading this story. Joanne Harris once wrote, "Fiction and fantasy aren't "fake" any more than light seen through a prism is fake. It's just seen from a different perspective. Light through a prism is still light. Truth through a story is still the truth." There are many books, stories, films, etc, that embody that, but I'm not sure any come closer than the Wayward Children series. Sometimes we need that distance, that remove from reality, to really see the truths of our lives. Seanan does it with almost every word she writes. I cannot think of higher praise than that.


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Seanan McGuire


Amazon Links:
Drowned Girls
In Mercy (Kindle)
Skeleton (Kindle)
Lost in Moment

Bookshop Links:
Drowned Girls
Lost in Moment

A purchase through our links may earn us a commission.