Have you ever wondered what to happened to those kids who discover fairy tale worlds after they return back home? What happened to Alice in the years after she came back from Wonderland, or Dorothy from Oz? How did their families relate to them? Were they suddenly outcasts, yearning to break free from the mundane reality, or perhaps suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or a lifetime of nightmares and longing?
In Every Heart A Doorway, Seanan McGuire introduces us to Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, and its newest student, Nancy, who ventured into the Underworld and served the Lord of the Dead. She has returned home, to our too-fast, too-bright world and has been sent off to Eleanor's school with a promise to her parents that their broken Nancy can be fixed. But the truth of the matter is, there can be no fixing those children who returned from fantasy land - they have seen the remarkable, and they can now only choose either to forget it, or wait and hope to return. An interesting premise it's own right, McGuire complicates issues even further. Now, following Nancy's arrival, students begin turning up dead and savagely mutilated.
Every Heart A Doorway was one of those novellas that I read with a grin the whole way through. McGuire's language and pacing left me giddy, and reminded me, at times, of some of the best and darkest moments of Harry Potter, only more tightly condensed and rightly gruesome. There's hope and wide-eyed wonder about the proceedings, and knowing nods towards the fairy tale stories that have clearly influenced the author to craft such a loving ode. The characters are fresh and compelling, with Jack (aka Jacqueline) being an easy favorite. She and her twin sister Jillian (aka Jill) took a detour through the Moors, and she became the apprentice to Dr. Bleak, a clear riff off the good old Dr. Frankenstein, while Jill became a vampire's paramour. Jack is smart and dark, and almost a twisted mirror-universe take on Potter's Hermione Granger. Mostly, she's just a damn fun character who is at her best hanging out in the morgue with a bucket of acid.
My only complaint is that I was left wanting more, and I'm not sure if this is meant to be a standalone title or not. If so, then so be it, as I'm grateful to have it. Still, if McGuire has proved anything with this book, not all doors to fantasy land need stay closed forever.
In short, I loved this story. A lot. It hit that particular sweet spot for me, and if you, too, are looking for the literary lovechild of JK Rowling and Tim Burton, this should fit the bill awfully well.
[Note: I received an advanced reader's copy from the publisher via NetGalley for review.]