The premise behind Seanan’s McGuire’s upcoming novella, Every Heart a Doorway, is an interesting one: what if, disturbed by her tales of Wonderland, Alice’s parents had shipped her off to boarding school with the Darlings and the Pevensies and all of the other characters from children’s fantasy literature who claim to have visited other worlds. (The closest comparison I can think of is Daryl Gregory’s We Are All Completely Fine, which centres on a support group for horror movie survivors.)
In Every Heart a Doorway, these places are all real, despite parents’ attempts to convince their children otherwise, leaving indelible marks on anyone fortunate enough to be chosen to travel there. The school’s newest arrival, Nancy, has just returned from a Hades-like Underworld a la Persephone, with with a distaste for bright colours, movement, and solid food. Her roommate, Sumi, speaks only in Nonsense. Even the headmistress, Miss Eleanor, is a former traveler, devoting her life to helping children like herself adjust to the real world — at least until they can find the door back to their fantasy kingdoms.
Every Heart a Doorway is equal parts fantasy, school story, and mystery; unfortunately J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is a tough act to follow, raising the bar to an almost impossible height in all three of these genres. I couldn’t help making comparisons as I was reading, which could be why some elements fell a bit flat for me. While the book contains some original ideas, intriguing characters, and impressive world-building, these might have been better served over the course of a full length novel, rather than the book’s scant 176 pages. According to Goodreads, this is the first part in a series, so I’ll be curious to see how McGuire develops the characters and expands on her mythology over subsequent volumes.
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire is now available for pre-order and will be published by Tor.com on April 5, 2016.
Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reading Copy from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.