Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is the sixth book in the Wayward Children series, and unfortunately, it is not one of the better volumes. The series follows a standard portal-fantasy formula: children who do not fit in for whatever reason--upbringing or inclination--find a door to another world where they belong. Inevitably, this door is marked "Be Sure." They go through this door and find a world that was made for them...and when they grow up and have to return to ours, they spend the rest of their lives searching for that door again.
The formula being the same, the difference is the worlds each of these kids stumble into. It's become clear to me that the most interesting world, by far, is that of the twins Jack and Jill, and the dark, beautiful and horrifying world of the Moors. I would read a full-length book set in that world. This world, the Hooflands, is just okay. The author tries her best to work up a genuine threat to her protagonist, but she doesn't really succeed...and at the end, we learn the "threat" was just a fakeout anyway.
The Hooflands is a world made up of all the hoofed creatures of our myths and legends, from centaurs and unicorns (here, unicorns are a domesticated animal like cattle, kept for their milk and meat, the thought of which is rather icky), to fauns, kelpies and minotaurs. Our protagonist, Regan, crosses into the Hooflands and falls in with a herd of centaurs. The worldbuilding fell down a little bit here, for me, as we really don't get a good idea of what it means to be a centaur. For instance, how and what do they eat, if they have both human and equine stomachs? Horses cannot vomit and are prone to colic because of it. How about centaurs? Those kinds of basic worldbuilding questions are kind of glossed over.
There's a very Narnia-like feel to this world, especially in the final chapters when Regan is on her way to the Queen's castle and falls in with a kelpie (a carnivorous equine) and a peryton (a sort of winged skinned deer) and it turns out they both can talk. Truthfully, Gristle and Zephyr, the kelpie and the peryton respectively, were the most interesting characters of the bunch. I would rather have seen Regan spend the book with them than the centaur herd. Regan does grow throughout her five years in the Hooflands, learning that the friends she thought she had in the human world weren't friends at all, because they were trying to fit her into a rigid box of what they thought a girl should be. (Regan is intersex, and when she learns this and confides it to her human "friend," Laurel, Laurel throws a fit.) The centaurs accept Regan for who she is, and love her regardless of how different she is from them, and while that's a good lesson to learn and impart, it still feels a bit superficial. It isn't explored in any depth.
In the end, I liked this entry in the series...marginally so. It was okay, nothing more. The Moors, and the world of skeletons a character in the preceding book came from, are the more interesting destinations in this collection of portals, and I hope the author returns to them.
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