The 2017 Nebula Award winner in the novella category. Written by Seanan McGuire, it tells the story of a young girl who had fallen through a magical portal to another world. It's not the story of that world, however—it's the story of her unhappy return to this one. Our reality has no place for used up magical children who have been cast free of their magical lands, except that we find out that it does: Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. The Home's purpose is to help such children recover from their delusions. Only the staff and residents of the school know that their experiences were real.
You may cringe at yet another boarding school for magical children tale, but this is not Harry Potter and it's not Lev Grossman's the Magicians either. The children have traveled through magical portals to other reams, but they are not themselves magical. They're changed psychologically by their experiences, and have aged mentally and emotionally past their biological ages, but they haven't got arcane abilities or magic superpowers. And this being a novella, we're not treated to an extended grind of school life. They're children, so they're sometimes mean and hateful to one another, but the institutional bullying of many similar works is largely set aside.
McGuire is more concerned with the psychology of these damaged children, and sets up an interesting cast of refugees from different lands including magical pony lands, underworlds, and more. Two key characters seem to have spent their time away in a Hammer Films world, or perhaps the D&D Ravenloft setting. When violence intrudes on the school, the children must band together to discover the source. The murder mystery that has to be solved by the meddling kids is yet another trope, one that is somewhat hand-waved, but it was not a big distraction for me. These children are set up as having an emotional maturity from their time away, and the process never feels Scooby-Doo-ish.
I found the setting to be richly described, the internal logic clear and consistent, and the dialog crisp and believable. I rapidly came to like these fictional children and to cheer for their faint-to-nonexistent hopes of returning to their magical lands.
Every Heart a Doorway is a great read, and I can find no fault with the Nebula award, even against the strong competition already reviewed earlier in this review series. I powered through the novella in one sitting, and at 169 pages, Every Heart a Doorway left me wanting more. If you like modern fantasy, you should definitely read it.
And lo, there is good news: The novella is the first in a new Wayward Children series. A prequel, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, is out this month (June 2017) and deals with two of the standout characters, the Ravenloft/Hammer films children, in more...depth.
Borrowed from the library and just finished it.
You can see the cover at Tor's web site. You can find some bonus art for the novella there too.
The author's most welcome announcement of a second tale in the series.
Nebula 2017 novella nominees reviewed on e2:
This review leaves us with only two novellas from the 2017 Nebula nominee list unreviewed here on e2:
- S.B. Divya's Runtime (Tor yet again)
- John P. Murphy's The Liar (F&SF March/April 2016).
For SciFiQuest 3017: The Frontier that Wouldn't End
...Thanks to Tem42's rowdy intestinal microbiota for extending the quest....