Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is one of Tor's new novella line, and this story is ideally suited to that format. It simply would not have worked as a full-length novel, and I'm glad the author didn't try to pad it out. Seanan McGuire, unlike some authors I have recently read (*cough*Neal Stephenson*cough*), knows how to avoid infodumps, and works the necessary backstory seamlessly into the narrative.
There are some pretty poignant themes to this little tale; what happens when you feel you don't fit in anywhere, and when you finally find the place you're destined to be, you get yanked back to this world? What will you do, what will you give up, to get back to that place? And if you can't get back, how will you cope?
This is the story of Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, the last refuge of children who have gone through magical doors to other worlds: Nonsense worlds and Logic worlds and in the case of our protagonist, Nancy, the Halls of the Dead. Nancy, like the other children in this story, will do anything to get back to her world...and as we learn, that "anything," for one of the characters here, includes murder.
The murder mystery is pretty pedestrian (I'm not enough of a murder aficionado myself to count clues and look for red herrings and such, but other reviews I've read suggest those into that sort of thing figured out the murderer pretty quickly), but as far as I'm concerned the murder mystery isn't really the point. The characters are, and this is where McGuire shines. From Nancy with her ability, gained in the Halls of the Dead, to stand rock-still and slow down her heartbeat, to fast-talking Sumi, a refugee from a Nonsense world, to identical twins Jacqueline (Jack) and Jillian (Jill), the former of which is ruthlessly logical and tolerant of gore (of which there is a fair amount in this book), and the latter sports ribbons and parasols...the characters are distinctive and memorable.
This is a lovely, compact story, and it is exactly the length it needs to me. Would that more authors would recognize this as well as Seanan McGuire.
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