For us, places we went were home. We didn’t care if they were good or evil or neutral or what. We cared about the fact that for the first time, we didn’t have to pretend to be something we weren’t. We just got to be. That made all the difference in the world.
Last week I discussed my personal favorite to win the World Fantasy Award for Best Long Fiction. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire is THE favorite to win the award. It’s already won everything else: the Locus, the Nebula, the Hugo. Fundamentally, it is a story that explores portal fantasy. For the uninitiated, portal fantasies are those stories about kids who go through magic portals and wind up in an alternative fantasy world where they have adventures. Classic examples of portal fantasies include Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and The Chronicles of Narnia.
I am hesitant to go into further detail about the actual story of Every Heart a Doorway because that way lies spoilers and madness. Wouldn’t you rather the author introduce you to the world instead of hearing it from me second-hand? If you don’t quite know what to make of this portal fantasy business, here is the author’s description of her book. Pretty dope, right?
It’s an easy read, with well-defined characters, beautiful-but-not-overly-complicated language, and a clever concept. It is probably the “most fun” read out of the World Fantasy nominees. Some have described the book as “YA,” but it did not have a classic YA….vibe (for lack of a better word) to me. The book KIND of feels like what you’d get if you mixed the Life is Strange videogame, a book of fairy tales (and I mean real fairy tales, the ones with fairies), the portal stories (obviously), Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It works.
My main criticism of the book is that it is very focused on setting up the world and expressing a viewpoint to the detriment of telling an engaging story. It is a cool world and a very worthy viewpoint, but nevertheless, the narrative felt cluttered with unnecessary digressions and ultimately lacked a certain punch. For example, a classification system is introduced that plots the various portal worlds on a type of grid, using scales of logic and nonsense for one axis and wickedness and virtue for another axis. There’s no real background for the need for that grid system, why all of the characters bought into it, or what point there is for it. I think it’s a fun analytical tool the author devised for the established classic portal fantasies, but it doesn’t really add anything to the narrative.
However, this criticism is not meant to discourage anyone from reading it. I definitely recommend the book. A particularly pleasurable experience would probably be reading this book on a picnic at some wooded park, wondering if any of the surrounding environments would lead you to a fantastic world. What kind of magical realm is closest to your heart?
Mine would probably be something like this.
My rating: 4 stars