Review: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway - coverARC Review:

Title: Every Heart a Doorway

Author: Seanan McGuire

Publisher and Year: Tor, 2016

Genre: fantasy, young adult, new adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

 

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

How have I not read any of Seanan McGure’s work before?! Especially given my love of urban fantasy?! In any case, this was my first foray into McGuire’s work and I could not put the book down. Every Heart a Doorway is simply magnificent and is an instant favourite for 2016, without question.

Every Heart a Doorway has one of the most interesting fantasy premises I’ve come across in a long time and it’s beautifully executed. The world building for the story is sublime and I want to read so many more stories set in this universe! Not only were the setting and world building engaging, the characters leapt off the page and brought the story to life for me. I could imagine their voices, the way they looked, everything so clearly.

My heart went out to Nancy and I was particularly taken by her experience having tumbled into a world that wasn’t sunshine and rainbows, as some of the worlds in the books were described, but one that is more silent, deeper and a bit darker. I am absolutely a fan of sunshine, unicorns and rainbows without question, but my experience of that is enhanced when there is shadow and darkness to the lightheartedness. I also love how well McGuire demonstrates that sunshine and rainbows do not inherently equal benevolence or fairness, and that the darker or creepier worlds are not necessarily malevolent or evil.

What especially struck me about this novella, and I think it’s an aspect that makes this particularly good reading for young/new adults is the way in which Nancy experiences isolation and difficulty with her family after she returns from her world. Nancy’s experience parallels the experience of many who are struggling personally with something that their families don’t or can’t understand. Across the experiences of other characters in the novel like Kade, Jack, Jill and Sumi, the concept of family and the relationship with family as being complex, fraught and difficult on several levels is explored including having family, not having family, being loved and wanted, or unwanted and misunderstood by family.

Additionally, the novella includes a spectrum of characters with different experiences, not all of them are white, one is asexual and another is transgender, and this too mirrors the experience of people reading who want to see themselves in fiction, and see how other characters think about their lives, feelings and experiences and process them. I sincerely wish I had a book like this for when I was growing up, I needed this book growing up and I needed it now to look back on my past and growing up and the impact of being misunderstood and out of place on me. That profound sense of not belonging so much that you lose yourself in fantasy trying to cope – for the characters in the story that’s more literal than metaphorical but it really hit home for me. Wanting to belong and trying to find that place, finding it and losing it, trying to find a new sense of home and belonging afterwards. This story is profound on several levels.

I also love the overt feminism of the story in considering why there are so many more girls than boys who go through secret doors into hidden worlds. The idea of boys being too loud to be easily missed, and the expectations and assumptions about how boys play and what will happen to them versus the way in which we seek to protect girls, but also how we impose upon them a silence and stillness that means that it is easier for them to be misplaced, should they find a door and go wandering. This is a pointed commentary and it draws on the generalisations bound up in traditional gender roles reflecting not only a bitter truth contained within, but also the constraint that is imposed upon people to be, to not be, to conform a certain way.

I have no criticisms to level at this novella, as one reviewer put it: it’s damn near perfect. It packs an emotional punch, it’s beautifully written, the length is accessible – it’s neither too long nor too short and it leaves you wanting more. I am my own doorway, I am the only one who gets to choose my story and I make the decisions that govern my narrative. Every Heart a Doorway will stay with me for the rest of my life.

 

 

Spindle City Mysteries by Carlie St George

So 2015 is the year where I finally realised that I do like reading crime/mysteries afterall (although my youthful penchant for Trixie Belden should have clued me into that). I don’t like true crime or scary, gritty, thriller or true crime books, I like entertaining mysteries and crime – crime with fluff and even better if it’s fantastical and speculative. The Spindle City Mysteries are a most excellent example of what I’m coming to recognise as my taste in crime/mysteries. These stories are set in a universe of classic fairytales and have a noir feel to them, with a side of comedy to round them out.

The Bloody Little Slipper - coverTitle: The Case of the Little Bloody Slipper (Spindle City Mysteries #1)

Author: Carlie St George

Publisher and Year: Book Smugglers Publishing, 2015

Genre: mystery, crime, fairytales

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

“It was half past eleven when I saw her. She was standing at the top of the staircase, with restless fingers and defiant eyes, wrapped in blue silk that clung to her hips.”

Jimmy Prince is a private detective with a tendency to make bad decisions, take on hopeless cases, and ask too many questions. But no one is answering his inquiries about Ella, the mysterious dame who slipped into the Prince family gala, stayed for a dance, then disappeared at midnight leaving just a single bloody glass slipper behind.

With the help of his trusty assistant Jack (a street-savvy teen runaway who is as tough as she is resourceful), Jimmy finally catches a break when one of Spindle City’s most powerful players, the Godmother, lets slip that Ella is part of a much larger conspiracy and not at all who she seems. With every new clue, Jimmy finds himself a step farther down a path that threatens to uncover some of the city’s best kept, and most deadly, secrets.

In Spindle City, all kinds of tales get told… for a price. Asking the wrong question is a guaranteed one-way ticket to the long and silent ever after.

Taking on this new case might just be Jimmy Prince’s biggest mistake yet.

 

My review:

The Case of the Bloody Little Slipper caught my eye when I wanted to read and support more short fiction publishing and in particular wanted to support Book Smugglers Publishing. Fairytales in a noir crime setting sounded interesting and so I gave it a try. The cover itself drew my interest looking very reminiscent of Cinderella, but also hinting toward the noir style of the story. From the first I was transported into the universe of Spindle City, because the language was so markedly difference. This took a little getting used to, and some guessing at times but it was worth it and I felt immersed in the life of Jimmy Prince trying to solve the mystery of Ella.

I love the idea of ‘Prince Charming’ actually being dysfunctional, not too pretty and although that idealistic moral standard is definitely present in Jimmy, it’s definitely sarcastic and a little tarnished. Jimmy was a great protagonist to explore Spindle City along with his sidekick Jack whose story I’m really intrigued by! Ella as the disenfranchised, disinherited orphan is beautifully retold, retaining the mystery of the original fairytale while also giving her greater depth without the singular romantic focus. This story was refreshing and I just let myself enjoy the mystery unfolding – I’m less about guessing where mysteries and crime solving stories are going, and more about enjoying the ride.

St George has created a solid foundation in The Case of the Bloody Little Slipper with the Spindle City universe and I enjoyed every moment and couldn’t wait to read more!

 

The Price You Pay is Red - coverTitle: The Price You Pay is Red (Spindle City Mysteries #2)

Author: Carlie St George

Publisher and Year: Book Smugglers Publishing, 2015

Genre: mystery, crime, fairytales

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

“All women are dangerous,” Rose said. “Anyone underestimated is.”

When Jimmy Prince–excessively stubborn gumshoe and maker of terrible life choices–stumbles on the corpse of Spindle City’s darling actress and heiress Sarah “Snow” White, he and street-savvy sidekick Jack are once again on a case that threatens to expose ugly truths from Spindle’s dark underbelly. Turns out Snow’s death is no ordinary open-and-shut case involving something as mundane as a jealous coworker or spurned lover. Her murder points to a much deeper, insidious plot that involves some of Spindle’s biggest criminals–as well as some of its greatest, most celebrated citizens.

At stake is a rumored vaccine that could save thousands of lives from the Pins & Needles plague–a disease for which there is no cure, and that has already affected Jimmy’s friends and family in irreparable ways. But as Jimmy Prince knows all too well, hope is for saps, and The Spindle is not a city for those who believe in happy endings. Even when they want to, above everything else.

 

My review:

While we first met Sarah ‘Snow’ White in The Case of the Bloody Little Slipper, she wasn’t much part of that story and I hoped that St George would revisit her story later on. Wish granted! (Just like a fairytale really, complete with bitter edge). A story focused on the Snow White of Spindle City, but unfortunately she’s dead – and why? The impression we’d received in the first book was that she was something of a shallow actress, out to make a living and thumb her nose at her stepmother (lovely nod to the fairytale there).

Here in The Price You Pay is Red we discover there’s more to Sarah than we thought, and yet this is bittersweet because Sarah is already dead. We learn more about the ‘Pins and Needles’ disease that has ravaged Spindle City and that Sarah was likely killed because of something she had to do with a potential vaccine to the fatal wasting disease. This is near and dear to Jimmy’s past based on his own historical relationships.

Overall this  book was much less fairytale retold and much more noir crime  mystery, but that’s not a criticism, it brings that genre to life for me in a way that I may otherwise have never appreciated. Lovely continuation of the Spindle City mysteries.

 

The Long and Silent Ever After - coverTitle: The Long and Silent Ever After (Spindle City Mysteries #3)

Author: Carlie St George

Publisher and Year: Book Smugglers Publishing, 2015

Genre: mystery, crime, fairytales

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

“Hello, Prince,” the Godmother said. “I’m calling in that favor.”

When Rose Briar–cabaret singer, drug lord, and notorious secret-keeper–disappears without a trace from her club, The Poisoned Apple, Jimmy Prince and Jack are on the case once again. This time, the duo may have bitten off more than they can chew, as their investigation drags them into the path of the Spindle’s greatest and most formidable criminal–one who got her nickname for her tendency to burn her enemies alive.

It doesn’t help that Jimmy is having a hard time focusing on the case, torn between his head’s desire to do the right thing, and his heart’s insistence for that one person who always has three gats, a pen, and a smile at the ready.

But in Spindle City, the long and silent ever after waits for no one–and it’s Jimmy’s turn to dance with dragon.

 

My review:

How awesome are the titles for these mysteries? So freaking awesome. The titles alone make me want to read these books – that happens less and less I find, so I’m especially charmed. While this is the last of the Spindle City mysteries currently planned, I sincerely hope that this changes and that there are more to come because these stories are so wonderful and entertaining to read! I want to enjoy this unique universe and its characters for several books to come – this is truly a great candidate for an expanded universe.

I love that queerness, partnership and friendship feature strongly in this book – more so than romance or rather the romance is subtle, it’s not the main focus but it’s sweetly there to enjoy. I love that this book features more of Rose Red and also the Godmother – who in this universe is not the benevolent creature we’re used to. This story has more intrigue, more adventure and we also see Jimmy deal with his own pride, illness and mortality.

If there had to be a book where things ended (or more hopefully paused) then this is a great book to do that. The story satisfies and you get to feel like you’ve gotten a really good taste of what this universe and its stories are all about. I love the way in which Carlie St George has so beautifully created this noir fairytale sub-genre, the quasi-gritty stylised noir aspect maps surprisingly well to traditional fairytales and they come to life in a whole new way. (Am I the only one who thinks this would also make a great television adaption?) Congratulations to St George and Book Smugglers Publishing on a truly awesome series of books, I enjoyed them so very much and am recommending them far and wide.