Author Seanan McGuire, who also writes under the pseudonym Mira Grant, is the author of the October Daye and InCryptid urban fantasy series among many other works. In 2010, she was honored with the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and she is the first person to have appeared five times on the same Hugo ballot (in 2013).
Her latest novel, Every Heart A Doorway (Tor, 2016), is a page-wolfing coming-of-age fantasy novel about finding yourself while conquering self-destructive categories. Seanan McGuire creates queer and gender-bending heroines and heroes who casually destabilize any ideas of normative. It´s a tale where virtue has wicked layers and virtuous wickedness is paired with non-binary logic, but get ready for deception: glorious, dark humored, baffling “oh come on”-esque deception.
The prologue introduces us to an antagonist too good to be true, the first chapter makes us believe in the overarching (and overused) mental-health metaphor, and shows us that we have been inside a nebulous fantasy story since the beginning. That is the beauty of deception: you can never be ready.
We are reading our way into a home for wayward children, where those who made journeys to places no-one believes to be true can find their way back — or at least find the hope to live on. Nancy, our protagonist, arrives at the boarding school forlorn. After having found and lost the place where she can be her powerful still self on her magical journey, she stands as an outcast of both family and the home behind the door, wanting nothing more to go back.
To the Underworld.
Nancy soon finds out that everyone in the school is looking for their own other worlds, or rather the doors leading to them. These doorways lead to places of nonsense or logic, filled with armored Goblins and playful Candylands. Once we, as readers, alongside newcomer Nancy, have come to understand the magic of the doors, the murders begin. Nancy and her companions are thrown into an increasingly dark adventure of “who-dunnit,” navigating their identities, friendships and animosities, between vampires, scientists, and dancing skeletons.
The quick-turning 169 pages are simply not enough for this story — and certainly not for its characters. It is frustrating to read about incredibly complex characters valuing their intersectional identities, only to reach the end of the book when you feel the story has barely begun! At times it seemed like McGuire fell back on symbolic shorthand — for example a recurring theme of characters’ defining talents being represented by a specific part of the body — for the sake of narrative brevity. I found myself wanting to know more at every turning of the page, and wishing for more deception where there was no room left. With this book, Seanan McGuire wrote an invitation that reads in bold letters: Write your own doorways.
If you have read and loved stories about magical journeys to independence and to parallel universes, this is your book. It carries a darkness akin to Michael Ende´s Momo, celebrates unique characters like The Golden Compass series, and creates fantastic worlds like The Neverending Story or The Chronicles of Narnia. Pamela Dean is another author whose work feels similar in style — high fantasy and realism combined, especially in her retelling of the ballad of Tam Lin.