Kate’s Review: “Gwendy’s Button Box”

34430839Book: “Gwendy’s Button Box” by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

Publishing Info: Cemetery Dance Publications, May 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The little town of Castle Rock, Maine has witnessed some strange events and unusual visitors over the years, but there is one story that has never been told… until now.

There are three ways up to Castle View from the town of Castle Rock: Route 117, Pleasant Road, and the Suicide Stairs. Every day in the summer of 1974 twelve-year-old Gwendy Peterson has taken the stairs, which are held by strong (if time-rusted) iron bolts and zig-zag up the cliffside.

At the top of the stairs, Gwendy catches her breath and listens to the shouts of the kids on the playground. From a bit farther away comes the chink of an aluminum bat hitting a baseball as the Senior League kids practice for the Labor Day charity game.

One day, a stranger calls to Gwendy: “Hey, girl. Come on over here for a bit. We ought to palaver, you and me.”

On a bench in the shade sits a man in black jeans, a black coat like for a suit, and a white shirt unbuttoned at the top. On his head is a small neat black hat. The time will come when Gwendy has nightmares about that hat…

Journey back to Castle Rock again in this chilling new novella by Stephen King, bestselling author of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, and Richard Chizmar, award-winning author of A Long December. This book will be a Cemetery Dance Publications exclusive with no other editions currently planned anywhere in the world!

Review: One of my favorite things about Stephen King (and there are so, so many things to love about this man, in my opinion) is that he likes to make references to his past works within his books. It makes it feel like his stories exist in their own universe, and it makes it fun to try and spot references as you read his books. He also brings some characters from some books into other books. For example, in his Science Fiction/Suspense book “11/22/63”, his main character travels back in time to stop the Kennedy Assassination… and makes a detour in Derry, Maine, the infected town in “It”. We even got to see some of the characters from “It” in that book, even though they were definitely just treats for his readers. But the character that he does this the most with is Randall Flagg, aka The Man in Black, aka The Walkin’ Dude, aka Walter O’Dim. Flagg is mostly seen in “The Stand” and “The Dark Tower” Series, but every once in awhile he’ll show up in other King works. It’s rumored that he’s He Who Walks Behind The Rows in “The Children of the Corn”, and Raymond Fiegler in “Hearts in Atlantis”. I’m always on the look out for Flagg to come back, as he’s one of my favorite villains of all time.

And in “Gwendy’s Button Box”, the new novella by King and Richard Chizmar, it’s very possible that he has.

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M-O-O-N that spells ELATED! (source)

Gwendy is a typical awkward pre-teen girl. Teased by her peers and living a less than ideal home life, she’s taken it upon herself to slim down before she starts high school. She does this by running up a very steep set of stairs every day in her hometown of Castle Rock, Maine. And it’s on one of these days that she meets Richard Farris, a mysterious stranger wearing a black hat and coat. The Initials R.F. tell us right away that this is very likely to be Flagg, as does his appearance due to his penchant for wearing black. Oh, and the fact he gives her a magical box covered in buttons, and tells her that it is her responsibility at this moment to keep this box safe. While he doesn’t say it outright, he implies that pressing the buttons could have dire consequences for the world around her. It’s such a terrifying and fascinating concept to hold such a small yet powerful thing in your hands, and Gwendy is the one who is going to be the keeper of that responsibility. At least for now. This is Flagg at a more benign level, as he feels less destructive and more impish, almost like a mentor to Gwendy. The Box rewards her with beautiful chocolate animals, antique coins, and a boost of self esteem. While it didn’t feel like the Randall Flagg that I know and love, this potentially kinder, gentler Randall was pretty fun to read and rather ‘aw’ inducing. After all, how kind and gentle could he be truly if he knows that this box could potentially spell doom for mankind if it falls into the wrong hands?

I think that King and Chizmar did a very good job of writing Gwendy. Even though this is a novella and doesn’t have many pages to delve into her psyche, I felt that she was a realistic and relatable pre-teen girl. She isn’t too popular, she is unsure of herself, and she is happy to take the highs of this box and it’s responsibilities, but reluctant and scared of the lows. I enjoyed that as I was reading this book it was hard to know if there was a cause and effect going on, at least part of the time. When Gwendy pushes one of the buttons, shortly thereafter the Jonestown Massacre happens. Is that coincidence? Or did Gwendy cause it? It’s philosophical tension at it’s finest, making the reader question if she has any affect on the world, or if Richard Farris (aka Randall Flagg) is merely toying with her. She struggles with the knowledge that she has this thing that could potentially be destructive, and yet lives for the perks that it may be giving her. I also think that King and Chizmar did a good job of capturing adolescence as a whole, even if a magical button box wasn’t there. Gwendy makes friends, loses others, finds first love and has to deal with cruel and bad people who are in her life, and it always felt so real and bittersweet watching her go through her teenage years, button box or not.

King and Chizmar created a pretty cohesive book. It’s hard enough to pull off a novella, to hit all the points that you want to hit, and I imagine that doing it with another person is harder still. But it never felt like I was reading two competing voices in this book. It sounds like they created a system that worked for the two of them, and I have to say that I was very impressed with what they came up with. It has that undercurrent of thriller, wondering if Gwendy is going to keep hitting buttons and cause a catastrophe. But it also has that coming of age feel as Gwendy learns about herself and life. Given that King and his son Owen just wrote another book together, I see this as a positive sign that King has the ability to adapt, or at least tweak, his writing to mesh with another person’s.

“Gwendy’s Button Box” was a quick and very satisfying read. We get a nice taste of a return of The Walkin’ Dude, but we also get a heroine grounded in realism, and an existential crisis that kept this reader on the edge of her seat.

Rating 8: Filled with ambiguity and philosophical horror, “Gwendy’s Button Box” doesn’t only bring us back to Castle Rock, it may bring back The Man In Black. King and Chizmar work well to make a cohesive story between two voices.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Gwendy’s Button Box” is fairly new and isn’t on many Goodreads lists. It is, however, on “Best Books to Read In Summer”, and I think that it would fit in on “Weird and Freaky Books”, partially because Richard Matheson’s “Button, Button” is on that list and this book is super similar.

Find “Gwendy’s Button Box” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Brother’s Ruin”

29964674Book: “Brother’s Ruin” by Emma Newman

Publishing Info: Tor, March 17, 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: The year is 1850 and Great Britain is flourishing, thanks to the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts. When a new mage is discovered, Royal Society elites descend like buzzards to snatch up a new apprentice. Talented mages are bought from their families at a tremendous price, while weak mages are snapped up for a pittance. For a lower middle class family like the Gunns, the loss of a son can be disastrous, so when seemingly magical incidents begin cropping up at home, they fear for their Ben’s life and their own livelihoods.

But Benjamin Gunn isn’t a talented mage. His sister Charlotte is, and to prevent her brother from being imprisoned for false reporting she combines her powers with his to make him seem a better prospect.

When she discovers a nefarious plot by the sinister Doctor Ledbetter, Charlotte must use all her cunning and guile to protect her family, her secret and her city.

Review: I’m trying to increase my short story/novella reading, and so I was excited when I heard about this new steampunk, fantasy novella put out by Emma Newman. And while I feel like the novella aspect of the book may have weakened aspects of the story, overall, I was very pleased with this story which is the beginning of what looks to be an ongoing series.

Charlotte is in hiding. Not only is she a successful illustrator who must publish under a false name to hide her gender which might cripple her chances at success in a male-dominated profession, but she’s also a talented mage. And to be a mage is to give up one’s life to God and Country, be removed from one’s family (though the family is compensated based on the potential ability of their soon-to-be-lost family member), and be trained into serving in the elite Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts. Charlotte has no interest in losing her family, her burgeoning profession, or, worst of all, her fiance. Mages aren’t allowed to marry, and as Charlotte is already engaged to a perfectly pleasing man, so being discovered for the Latent that she is would be catastrophic. Instead, when her family hits hard times, her father recognizes the signs of a magic in his house, but falsely attributes it to his son, and brings in the society mages to test him for abilities. Charlotte must help her brother trick them into accepting him into their group, all while solving a dark mystery into which Charlotte’s father’s debts have dragged them all.

I very much enjoyed the originality of this world. The mages’ society is both something to be esteemed and feared, and this balance is struck again and again throughout the novel. Families can greatly profit from sending a family member to be trained, but they also lose their loved ones in the process, and that loved one gives up the chance to lead a normal life. In one of the opening scenes, Charlotte and her brother witness a young boy being dragged away from his mother once he’s been discovered as a Latent mage. The horror and the tragedy of this early scene is an important reminder as the story progresses and the true danger that her family faces at the hands of her father’s debt collectors becomes clear. It would be easy to question why Charlotte doesn’t simply bring herself forth. In many other fantasy series, having great powers is always shown as a purely good thing. But the sacrifices that come with this life are made clear throughout the entire story. Not only does one give up one’s planned life, but the mages society itself is not without its own dangers and dramas.

Charlotte was a very good lead character. Through her eyes, we can see the fears that have driven her throughout her entire life. Not only does she need to hide her magic, but her own success as an illustrator, a profession that she shares, nay exceeds at, with her own father. He, of course, is unaware of this commonality and the fact that Charlotte has spent much of her own money supporting her brother, in particular. Also, right away, her relationship with her fiance is set up as a challenge. Charlotte has not been honest with him either about these aspects of her life. In truth, her closest relationship is with her sickly brother, the only one to fully know her.

One of the bigger challenges for me in this story was the introduction and use of the mage who aides her in investigating the debt collectors. He is presented as a very attractive man whom Charlotte is drawn to right off the bat. However, throughout the story he routinely misleads her, sends her into dangerous situations without giving her complete knowledge, and out-and-out manipulates her. This behavior is explained, but, for me, he never quite recovers as a heroic character. While Charlotte and her fiance are clearly not well-suited (talk about a wet blanket relationship), I wasn’t as able to forgive the flaws of this new love interest as easily as Charlotte seemed to. The end of the book sets them up to work together in the future, with only the barest hints of romance alluded to (she’s still engaged, mind you), so I’ll be curious to see what comes of this going forward.

My only other struggle was with the pacing and the writing in spots. Charlotte had a few revelations that felt out of the blue and un-earned, and the pacing was jarring in the middle when the plot had to gallop along to cover all the multitude of plot points that were jammed into such a short story. I feel that the story could have benefited from an extra 25-50 pages to fully flesh out the deeper emotional beats and ensure that the plot ran more smoothly.

The world building was strong, however, and Charlotte was a fun main character, so I’m definitely on board to see what troubles she finds herself in in the future! And to see what becomes of her brother, Ben, another character I very much enjoyed who is now trapped in a magical society that thinks he is more than he actually is.

Rating 7: A great start to a new series, if only rubbing up a bit against the restraints of a shortened page length.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Brother’s Ruin” is a newer book and not on any relevant Goodreads list, but it should be on “Popular Steampunk Fantasy Books” and “Novellas by women, about women.”

Find “Brother’s Ruin” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Copper Promise” Part 4: “Upon the Ashen Blade”

19858251Book: “Upon the Ashen Blade” by Jen Williams

Publishing Info: Headline, January 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Demons and gods, revenge and lies, and still the dragon moves slowly north. Wydrin, Sebastian and Frith now have the tools that could end the destruction, but a vast army lies between them and victory, and time is running out. The race is on to stop Y’Ruen before all of Ede is under her flame.

Review: We’ve arrived at the the fourth and final novella that makes up “The Copper Promise” and our heroes have a lot to do. Wydrin: save her brother’s life. Sebastian: figure himself out and deal with the pesky little demon he’s sold his soul to. Frith: complete his journey to not being an unlikable, arrogant, ass while escaping a crow god. All: deal with the dragon bent on destroying the world with her fire and brood army. So, you know, a reasonable task for about 110 pages of story!

As mentioned in the last review, we were left on cliffhangers in all three stories. But not to fear, these were wrapped up fairly quickly at the beginning of this. So, too, our merry band were speedily re-united. While I enjoyed the three separate storylines for each that we got in the last book (a bit to my surprise!), I was very happy to have our heroes back together. It has become more and more clear that Wydrin is who has been holding things together for her and Sebastian for the last few years. Not only does he make very bad decisions without her (as we saw last time), but the guy is just too serious for his own good and has some major self-esteem issues to work through. Wydrin’s sense of humor, and sense of support, were badly needed by both him and Frith.

Frith’s cliffhanger was solved a bit too easily for my taste, but, due to the page count and long list of tasks mentioned above, this wasn’t all that surprising. It did lead to another mini adventure for the group that I very much enjoyed. The settings and magic systems that these novellas use have a very “classic high fantasy” feel to them that is refreshing in this day and age. All too often, fantasy now reads very dark, grim, and full of anti-heroes and political maneuvering.

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Yes, yes, but sometimes can’t we just have fantasy fun?? (source)

I particularly enjoyed the pieces of this story that came together through connections to the previous three novellas. The added chapter perspectives from the point of view of the members of the brood army paid off in a great way, particularly in bits where there were clever nudges to the reader that weren’t picked up on by our unknowing heroes. And Frith’s backstory was resolved in a satisfactory manner. I wasn’t quite sure where the author was going with this for a while, as the storyline seemed sprinkled in amidst the larger plot conflict of the dragon in strange ways at times.

I really only have two complaints. The first is completely unsurprising and expected: this section was too short to do justice to the many dangling storylines left to be wrapped up. Especially, I would have liked more time with Sebastian and the brood army since the relationship between the two was built up quite a lot in the second and third story. My second complaint has to do with a portion of Wydrin’s story that I felt was ultimately taking up page time that could have been used elsewhere (in the aforementioned Sebastian/brood army bits, or in the epic battle at the end, or simply in giving more time to the evolving relationship between Wydrin and Frith). Really, there were plenty of places that could have used the page time, and I had largely forgotten about this antagonist already. There were elements here that tied into the resolution of the entire story, but I wish there had been a way to deal with this in a manner that didn’t take up as much time. Or maybe just make the whole section longer, and I wouldn’t have cared as much about the pages devoted to this section if they had no impact on the other story components.

Struggles with the limited page time allotted to ending this novella series aside, I very much enjoyed this last entry in the series. I would guess that to read this oneself, you are most likely to come across “The Copper Cat” edition that includes all four novellas. As I mentioned in my first post, I’m not sure how successful this story would be if approached as a traditional fantasy novel in one pieces. The pacing would be strange throughout the entire book, and the changes in storytelling would be very jarring (having the brood army chapters in there for 100 pages without any explanation and then suddenly disappearing, then having another 100 page section told with the three different plots lines, etc). I think the author/publisher would have done themselves a favor if it had been marketed more clearly as a compilation of four novellas. As it stands, without doing extra research and discovering this for oneself, many readers could be left with a bad taste in their mouth simply due to these pacing challenges. It’s really too bad. A simple note on the cover along with marked section titles would have done the trick. But, especially if one goes in knowing this to begin with, I would highly recommend this to readers who enjoy more traditional, slightly campy fantasy adventure stories.

Rating 8: A good ending, though too short to fully do the many plot points justice.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Upon the Ashen Blade” isn’t included on any lists on its own, but the compilation “The Copper Promise” is on this list “Books You Wish More People Knew About.”

Find “Upon the Ashen Blade” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:Ghosts of the Citadel” and “Children of Fog” and “Prince of Wounds”

Serena’s Review: “The Copper Promise” Part 3: “Prince of Wounds”

19829913Book: “Prince of Wounds” by Jen Williams

Publishing Info: Headline, February 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Before they can face the terror that they unleashed, they must face themselves: the magic that Lord Frith carries could save them, if only he could control it; Wydrin’s impulsive nature leads to a deadly conflict with pirates; and Sebastian is beginning to understand that victory can only come with sacrifice.

Review: In this, the third part of this novella series, our intrepid heroes have all been split up and were each having a bit of an existential crisis of one kind of another. While the other two stories have each had their own main story arc (a dungeon adventure and a besieged town in need of saving), this novella is the first that is largely used to set the stage for the last section of the story, where one expects the very large, very mean dragon that has been terrorizing the land might need to be dealt with.

I was a bit concerned when I first realized that this entire novella was going to alternate between our three main characters and they weren’t likely to meet up again here. I’ve been enjoying the group dynamics from the onset of this story, and was concerned that a few of the characters might not hold up as well on their own (mostly Firth, who I hadn’t completely warmed up to by the end of the second story). But these concerns were misplaced, as I found all three stories very enjoyable.

Firth is off on a quest to find anyone who might be able to teach him the language of the mages, his only hope for gaining control of the powers he gained in the first story. His journey and time spent learning is accordingly shortened due to the length of this segment (a total of around 100 pages, leaving him only 35 or so after splitting it with Sebastian and Wydrin). But I did enjoy what little we got from him. Some of his actions from the previous two stories were given a new, more favorable, light.  And, while I was able to predict the twist in his tale, I enjoyed watching it unfold, either way. There was also a lot of good background information on the old gods and the war they waged with the mages that started this whole mad-house of an adventure off in the first place.

Sebastian is in a bad place. His strange connection with the dragon and the brood army is a constant torment, and we pick up with him in the midst of what feels like a doomed and pointless journey: simply tracking the destruction. His whole story line was kind of a bummer, but we did learn what got him kicked out of his Order. Of course, it was tragic. But I appreciate the diversity that his character and history are bringing to the story. He is a nice change-up to the typical “knight” archetype that is seen in adventure fantasy novels like this. He comes across a grim family cult who are obsessed with sacrificing their visitors to their god of suffering (hence the title of this section), and…it’s not pretty.

Wydrin. Poor Wydrin is adrift after being abandoned in the night by Sebastian. She remains my favorite character, but the first half of her section felt the most disconnected of the three. We basically get a very brief, very sidelined from the larger story, mini adventure for her that seems to serve no real purpose other than  kick in the pants to get her moving. She does meet up with an unexpected character from the first novella who even further drags her back into the main storyline. We also meet her pirate brother, Jarath, who is a fun addition to the cast. Much of her story, unfortunately, is getting from one place to another. But her dialogue is as snappy as ever, so I was satisfied.

All three stories end on massive cliffhangers, so I am very glad that I am reading this the way I am and not as it was initially published where I’d have had to wait a whole month for any resolution. As it is, I’ll just flip this page here…

Rating 8: All three characters were able to stand on their own, and the set up for the last section is great!

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Prince of Wounds” isn’t included on any lists on its own, but compilation “The Copper Promise” is on this list “Traditional Fantasy Written by Women.”

Find “Prince of Wounds” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:Ghosts of the Citadel” and “Children of Fog”

Serena’s Review: “The Copper Promise” Part 2: “Children of the Fog”

19778048Book: “Children of the Fog” by Jen Williams

Publishing Info: Headline,  January 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Terrible deeds are afoot in the Blackwood forest. The ruthless Fane and his men have not given up their search for the Frith family vault, and the people of Pinehold are paying the price. Wydrin, Sebastian and Lord Frith are the only hope for the tortured and the dying … but between them and revenge are the eerie Children of the Fog.

Review: I started the second novella in this series in a much more confident state than I did the last (in that I wasn’t completely befuddled by what exactly I was reading!). And not only did this new sense of clarity improve my reading experience, but this second showing in the series was significantly stronger than the last.

Picking up immediately where the previous story left off, Wydrn, Sebastian and Lord Frith find themselves teleported (Frith’s new-found mage magic being completely out of control) to the middle of nowhere. Also known as “bear country.”

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If only they had a household cat with them…(source)

But after few near misses in said bear department, the group of adventurers stumble upon a familiar township that is under the control of Frith’s tormentors from the first story who are now torturing the town’s citizens in hopes of finding the secret Frith vault rumored to be filled with treasure and hidden in the woods. Hyjinks ensue.

In almost every way I felt that this story improved upon the first. Whereas the first story was trying to introduce readers to these new characters while also get through a complete, though short, adventure story arc, this novella has room to commit to the story itself, knowing that readers are already familiar with our protagonists. Small details still are leaking out regarding Sebastian’s past and the strange connection he now seems to have to the Amazon-like warrior women who, along with their dragon “mother,” are now terrorizing the land. Frith is…still kind of an entitled jerk, but I can see some small improvements as he learns to maybe…sort of..try to be a decent person. And Wydrin is still her snarky, capable self. Honestly, she’s the only thing holding this ragtag group together at this point!

I also enjoyed the adventure arc in this story more than the last. The side-characters who are introduced are fun, and the magical elements that come into play were unique and interesting. Particularly Holley and her magical glass work!

But, most surprising, was the inclusion of several chapters told from the perspective of the Amazon warrior dragon women (honestly, I don’t know how else to describe them!). At first I was a little put off by these seemingly random chapters, but as the story continued, they almost became my favorite part! Essentially, their arc is that of children discovering the world around them, forming their own identity, and questioning everything they see. It was a very unexpected turn to the overall arc, and I’m excited to see where we go next with these characters!

All in all, I highly enjoyed this second installation in “The Copper Promise” series. If you weren’t immediately captured by the first novella in the series, just as I wasn’t, I recommend giving it a second go with this one!

Rating 8: An improved adventure arc, and some very unexpected, but welcome, twists!

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Children of the Fog” isn’t included on any lists on its own, but compilation “The Copper Promise” is on these lists: “Dragons” and “Treasure Hunter Thrillers.”

Find “Children of the Fog” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “Ghosts of the Citadel”

Serena’s Review: “The Copper Promise” Part 1: “Ghosts of the Citadel”

19847375Book: “Ghosts of the Citadel” by Jen Williams

Publishing Info: Headline, December 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: It is said that the Citadel is haunted, and that anyone foolish enough to enter will never return. When a mysterious nobleman offers them a small fortune to explore its depths, sellswords Wydrin and Sebastian decide they can afford to be a little foolish – it’s a chance for adventure, riches, and they might even have a tale or two to tell in the tavern afterwards. But they will soon discover that sometimes there is truth in rumour…

Review: A few days ago, poor Kate was having to hear the long tale of woe from me regarding my latest book choice “The Copper Promise.” I remember specifically mentioning that I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the problem was that I was having with the book itself since it featured many of my favorite elements (a spunky heroine, a team adventure, strong high fantasy setting, etc). But for some reason the pacing felt off.

Well, the other day I was doing a bit of research into the book itself when I had a big “Aha!” moment: This book is a compilation of four novellas that were bound together to make the book “The Copper Promise!” It was really a light bulb moment, and now, with this in mind, I am going to move forward with reading/reviewing the book as it was originally published as four separate but serialized stories.

Right off the bat, it was a much more enjoyable experience re-approaching this series as novellas. Read on its own, “Ghost of the Citadel” is an action-packed, snappy-paced adventure story featuring three misfit characters. Tonally, this novella is closer to some of the fantasy of old that was much more campy and poppy. The world-building features classic monsters, fabled wars between mages and gods, and a mysterious Citadel that is the temptation (and seemingly always the death) of adventures throughout the realm.

Our adventures feature Wydrin and her partner Sebastian, a well-established mercenary duo on the look out for their next job. And a fallen lord, Aaron Firth, whose family was murdered and was run off his lands after suffering gruesome torture at the hands of his captor.

As this was a shorter novella, readers are thrown into the action with very little back story for any of these characters. We know a bit more about Firth from a prologue featuring him, but we pick up Wydrin and Sebastian straight from the tavern. I’m intrigued by the hints of backstory for them both. Sebastian heralds from a mountainous realm where he was once a member of an illustrious knights force, but was discharged for unknown reasons. Wydrin seems to have a simple reputation for being one of the best mercenaries out there Wydrin is the type of character who is right up my alley, so I was a bit disappointed by lack of backstory (even hints!) that we were given for her, other than that she is great at her job. Firth was honestly my least favorite character, but I feel like the series is setting him up for a redemption arc, of sorts, so I will wait to see what comes of that in the next three stories.

The story ends on a cliffhanger, so beware of that. But the cliffhanger, and the arc of the story itself, all feels so much more natural when read as an individual novella rather than a section of one book, so I strongly recommend trying to find the ebooks and reading the series in that version.

Rating 7: Once I got myself figured out, an enjoyable first installation for this 4-part novella series!

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Ghosts of the Citadel” isn’t included on any lists on its own, but compilation “The Copper Promise” is on these lists: “Best Fantasy Books by Women” and “Fantasy Standalone Novels.”

Find “Ghosts of the Citadel” at your library using WorldCat!

 

 

 

Serena’s Review: “Every Heart a Doorway”

25526296 Book:“Every Heart a Doorway” by Seanan McGuire

Publishing Info: Tor, April 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads:

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children:
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

Review: I highlighted this novella as an upcoming release that I was anxiously looking forward to back in April. I have read some of Seanan McGuires other books and have liked her style. Beyond that, the premises is right up my alley.

When my sister and I were little (or maybe only a few years ago, too), we would discuss what we would do if we suddenly came upon a portal to another world. The conversation was always pretty short: we’d go through of course! Having grown up on stories where children visit places like Oz, Narnia, and Wonderland, this really seems to be the only option.

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Going is never in question and there are millions of stories that share these adventures. But what happens when these children come back? (I am restraining myself from going into a long, drawn out discussion about the existential trauma that the Pevensies children must have gone through after living full adult lives in Narnia only to suddenly topple back to their own world as small children. If you really think about it for a minute, the true horror of that situation really sets in. Ok, mini rant over.)

“Every Heart a Doorway” addresses this very issue.  This novella posits that every child who disappears to these different worlds is also matched to a world that fits an inner part of themselves that cannot be fully expressed here in the human world. And when those children (adults in children’s bodies, many of them) return, it is not by free choice. Nancy is one of these children. After spending the last several years in an Underworld, the “Halls of the Dead” world specifically, she has returned to the “real” world and finds that she’s not too happy about it. Her parents, confused and saddened by the loss of their daughter of before, a past person that Nancy herself does not mourn, do what many such parents have done: carted her off for “treatment.” Luckily for Nancy, this “treatment” consists of a boarding school operated by a woman who knows all too well of Nancy’s unique struggles, having herself traveled between worlds for much of her life.

It’s amazing how much ground McGuire covers in such a short story. The book is only 150 pages long and yet she lays out not only Nancy’s story, but several other unique characters as well. Such as Jack and Jill, twins who spent years and years in a land called “The Moors” which seems to be based on old horror movies such as “Dracula” and “Frankenstein.” There’s Sumi, Nancy’s roommate, who traveled to a nonsense world, and perhaps has the most honest things to stay about these experiences from it. And Kade, a boy who was scooped up by fairies as a child, but who was kicked out when they learned that the little girl they thought they had captured identified as a boy and was much more interested in slaying trolls than in parading as their princess.

Alongside these fantastic characters, McGuire creates a unique system for cataloging these worlds, with axis of Nonsense and Logical with cross beams of Virtue and Wicked and many other offshoots as well. As a longtime reader of fantasy stories where characters world-jump, it was great fun looking at this mapping process and trying to apply it to other magical worlds from stories.

The mystery at the center of the story is also very effective and another huge mark in its favor. Again, the author had half the page count of a typical book to fit in all of these elements. I loved every minute of this book, and while I would love to have spent more time with these characters and this exploration of children traveling to fantasy worlds and their experiences after returning, the best compliment I can give any novella is to say that I felt fully satisfied with it as a short stand-alone.

Rating 9: Really great read! Fun characters, fun mystery, and most importantly, a great exploration of a typical fantasy trope.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Every Heart a Doorway” is included on the Goodreads list “Gender Non-Binary Fantasy & Science Fiction” and “2016 Speculative Fiction New Series And Standalones Books”.

Find “Every Heart a Doorway” at your library using WorldCat!