Be Sure (Wayward Children books 1-3) by Seanan McGuire (book review)

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is not an ordinary boarding school. The students do live there and study the usual subjects but it is not the full and ordinary school most of the parents believe it is. Eleanor West understands her students. She was just like them once. Adrift in a world that is no longer home. Like them she had found a door.

Each door is unique. Each child that falls through finds a place where they fit. Worlds made of gingerbread and cotton candy nonsense. Lands where the Goblin King battles the Fairy Queen. Halls ruled by the Lord of the Dead. Worlds under the sea, inhabited by dancing skeletons, plagued by turtles. Some never return home. Some are evicted. Some are sent back to Be Sure. All find themselves lost in a world that is no longer there with parents that refuse to believe. Parents who want the child they lost to come back but that child has discovered new horizons and refuses to return to the old rules that bound them. So Eleanor West smiles at parents and assures them her school can fix what is broken while letting her students wait for their doors to open once more.

‘Every Heart A Doorway’ introduces the world of doors and the school through new student Nancy, who isn’t coping well with the heat and speed of the world. She misses the beautiful stillness of being a stair adorning the Halls of the Dead. Of being so still that her muscles locked and her heart barely beat. Her new roommate, Sumi, never stopped moving and longed to return through her door into a sugar-frosted lane where a candy corn farmer waited to marry her. Sumi never stopped until she did, murdered and mutilated. Only a fellow student could be responsible.

‘Down Amongst The Sticks And Bones’ takes us into the backstory of students Jack and Jill and their gothic horror of a doorway.

‘Beneath The Sugar Sky’ takes through Sumi’s doorway to Confection, where the daughter she had, after being murdered, is only just beginning not to exist as the evil queen Sumi didn’t defeat as was prophesied gains in power.

These books come with excellent references and pedigree as Seanne McGuire’s name is a regular on SF award nomination lists. I’ve devoured McGuire’s ‘October Daye’ and ‘InCryptid’ series. I reviewed ‘Middlegame’ and ‘Seasonal Fears’. Yet I never dipped my toe into this series until now. What has held me back from reading the ‘Wayward Children’ previously is that they are novellas and I read fast and I read often. Novellas are short. They don’t offer enough words for a dedicated consumer of words. Three together though? That gives a nice solid 500 pages. But reviewing ‘Be Sure’ as a single book feels like cheating because it is the first three novellas of McGuire’s ‘Wayward Children’ series. All three won the Hugo Award for Best Novella. In 2022, the series won the Hugo Award for Best Series. Each novella is a wonderful fairy tale of a story and beautifully rendered in dreams of my half-remembered childhood.

Each story builds on the previous and connects through the students and their stories one to the next. These three feel so beautifully self-contained that I am wary of reading any of the next five novellas but also so heart-warming that I will be looking out for the next collection with anticipation.

If you still check the back of your wardrobe doors for a passage to Narnia or hope to trip and fall down a rabbit hole into Wonderland then you’ll want to check out ‘Be Sure.’ This is definitely a series for fellow fans of liminal spaces, the places betwixt and between, those who hope there is something between the cracks of the ordinary world. Just don’t get caught out and think it just a fairy story and give it to a child without reading it first, there are some grisly murders and creepy worlds that some younger readers may not enjoy.

LK Richardson

July 2023

(pub: Tordotcom. 528 page enlarged paperback. Price: $19.99 (US), £12.99 (UK). ISBN 978-1-25019-892-1)

check out website: www.tor.com

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