3 1/2 rounded up.
i still love this series, but if i’m being honest, the last two have been, in my heart, more “very good friends” to me than “soulmates.” it’s not down to me losing interest in this concept or (heaven forbid) any diminishment in mcguire’s skills, because Juice Like Wounds, a short story i read weeks after this one, is both a perfect short story and my absolute favorite wayward children piece yet.
i still haven’t managed to review book 5, Come Tumbling Down, because i felt like there was something wrong with me for not loving it. i really liked jack and jill in the other books, and i’d been looking forward to more of their story as soon as i learned they’d be returning, so when i was left underwhelmed after reading it, i worried that i’d become too damaged for that particular door to open for me again or maybe even too broken to take joy in anything anymore &blah &blah &emo weeping.
and then there was this one, this one about a portal to a world with friggin’ unicorns in it, which is all i’ve ever wanted since my babydays.
wayward children + unicorns sounds like something i made up in a dream as the cure for all of 2020 (so far), and while i’d be grateful for a portal anywhere right now, and tho’ i DID love what dum dums these particular unicorns were, the story as a whole just struck a medium chord with me.
i’m going to reread this when it comes out in january, with the expectation that 2021 will find us all in a better place and i will be able to enjoy everything more, but i think i figured out why it didn’t transport me over the moon.
each of these books is different, not only in the nature of the world behind the door, but also in the “why” of the story, which is something i love and admire with mcguire/grant in general—her imagination and conceptual risk-taking, but here the storyweight didn’t work for me.
i don’t consider anything i’m about to say here a spoiler, but i’m going to put it under a spoiler tag for reasons that should be clear to anyone who has been on this site for a minute.View Spoiler »the shape of the story is more or less the same as the others: character doesn’t ‘fit’ into their birth-world, finds a door that opens onto a place and people more suited to/aligned with their particular misfit qualities, conflict/action sequence leads to choice (made by or FOR the character) to stay or return to their ‘old’ world.
all of which is true here, but there’s not much in the way of tension or “rising action.” it’s not all cake and ice cream, but even for a very short book, the conflicts are mild.
quoting too much but still not giving away anything crucial:
…everything about the moment was inevitable; everything about the moment had been coming for her since the moment she’d walked through a door that wasn’t and into a world that somehow knew enough to know that it was going to need saving.
Not just saving: saving by someone who loved it. If the door had opened now, today, and dropped a gangly, long-limbed Regan wearing fresh new jeans and smelling of her mother’s perfume into the field, she wouldn’t have been fit for saving anything at all. She had never been given the opportunity to become that version of herself, but she knew in her heart that the other Regan wasn’t somehow the better one. The other Regan would never have understood the simple joy of fishing in the lake during her morning bath, hooking fat, slow bass under the gills with her fingers and flipping them onto the shore. She wouldn’t have seen the colts growing up, or lay with Chicory in fields of sweet grass, wondering about the shape of the future. If she was going the save the Hooflands, she had to be this version of herself, this awkward, half-wild, uncertain girl who’d grown up on a centaur’s back, racing through woods and breathing in air that always smelled, ever so faintly, of horsehair and hay. That other Regan had been the first sacrifice necessary to save the world, and she had made it without even knowing, and still she had no regrets.
i really appreciate the acknowledgment that in order to make anything better, you first have to understand what about it is broken—or even able to be fixed, and that only by immersing herself into the world, the culture, getting a sense of the people, being invested in its success, can she even consider an attempt to save it. mcguire’s sort of addressing one of those pervasive tropes of kidlit—the human savior come to ‘fix’ everything in a fantasyland that seems ‘backwards’ or ‘weird;’ a situation much less charming in its real-world equivalent. so the whole ‘point’ of the first 3/4 of the book is regan being groomed to save the world—not necessarily through training for the role, just…making her love the realm and its people, making her a part of its fate.
so, i love the message, but the path to the lesson isn’t as rich or fraught as some of the earlier installments, and the Great Big Standoff was…not very intense. « Hide Spoiler
TL;DR: this isn’t my favorite in the series, story-wise, but i’m forever in awe of her writing ability—her worldbuilding, her conceptual range, the way she’s always trying out new storytelling angles within this series. even the ones i don’t love in my reader-heart i admire from a critical standpoint.
hahaha yoonicorns, y r u so dum?
review to come.
THAT’S ENOUGH WORK FOR THE DAY GOTTA READ ABOUT UNICORNS NOW SORRY BYE
seanan mcguire. unicorns.
i think i just found my will to live.