Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway (Every Heart A Doorway #1), Seanan McGuire (2016)

April 6th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Wonderfully Weird & Achingly Beautiful (But I Want More!)

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

“Going back” had two distinct meanings at the school, depending on how it was said. It was the best thing in the world. It was also the worst thing that could happen to anybody. It was returning to a place that understood you so well that it had reached across realities to find you, claiming you as its own and only; it was being sent to a family that wanted to love you, wanted to keep you safe and sound, but didn’t know you well enough to do anything but hurt you. The duality of the phrase was like the duality of the doors: they changed lives, and they destroyed them, all with the same, simple invitation. Come through, and see.

She was a story, not an epilogue.

Have you ever wondered what happens once the story ends and the fantasy is over? After Will seals up the last window, only to return to a life of drudgery and anonymity in Oxford – without Lyra? Or when Alice, having barely escaped Wonderland with her head intact, has to face a “real” world that misinterprets her trauma as psychosis? Once the door has slammed shut and you’re not quite sure you ended up on the right side of it?

In Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire explores this unusual concept to great effect. Seventeen-year-old Nancy Whitman returned from the Halls of the Dead two months ago. To her parents, she was missing for six months. But time passed differently for Nancy, and she spent years serving the Lord of the Dead and the Lady of Shadows. She lived in shades of black and white and pomegranate, and moved with the stillness of a statue. Unlike many of her fellow refugees, Nancy wasn’t cast out, not exactly; the Lord sent her back so that she could be sure that she wanted to stay there forever. Only now she can’t find the doorway back, and this life – fast, colorful, frenetic – is slowly killing her.

Which is how Nancy ends up at ELEANOR WEST’S HOME FOR WAYWARD CHILDREN: NO SOLICITATION, NO VISITORS, NO QUESTS. Ely knows all too well the pain of being exiled from the one place you’re truly understood; she first found her opening (wedged between the roots of a tree on her father’s estate) at the age of seven, and spent much of her young life traveling back and forth. But hers was a Nonsense world, the rules of which are unkind to adults and their logical, linear thinking. She hopes to return when – if – she goes senile. Until that time, Eleanor has devoted her life to helping lost souls such as herself.

Nancy rooms with Sumi, a whimsical whirlwind wisp of a girl who visited a Nonsense world filled with cotton candy and rainbows. However, not long after Nancy’s arrival, a serial killer strikes. One by one, the girls are found dead, murdered and dismembered – starting with dear Sumi. With the help of Kade, a trans exile from Fairyland; Christopher, a quiet Latino boy who’s betrothed to Skeleton Girl; and twins Jack and Jill – a mad scientist’s apprentice and a vampire’s pet, respectively, Nancy is in a race to find the killer. Otherwise she risks becoming a victim – or a scapegoat.

Like many Seanan McGuire stories, Every Heart a Doorway is a satisfying mix of weird and melancholy; hauntingly beautiful, and also achingly sad. Even though the novel is rather short at ~160 pages, all of the main characters are well-developed; it was a pleasure to get to know them all, particularly the villains – those walkers chosen by Wicked worlds. Better still are the many, varied worlds we’re introduced to: worlds of Nonsense, Logic, Wickedness, and Virtue. Think: North, South, East, and West, with sub-directions pointing you toward Whimsy or Wild.

Every Heart a Doorway is also quite diverse; I’ve come to expect nothing less from McGuire, and the way she seamlessly weaves diversity into the fabric of the story is so lovely. Take Kade Bronson, for example: kidnapped by fairies, Kade went on to defeat a Goblin King with his own sword. Though the King was his enemy, he was also the first and only person to see Kade for who he truly is: a boy. The fairies, you see, “thought they had snicker-snatched a little girl—fairies love taking little girls, it’s like an addiction with them—and when they found out they had a little boy who just looked like a little girl on the outside, uh-oh, donesies.” Once they found out the truth, they tossed Kade into a wishing well and exiled him from Fairyland forever. Now he’s at Eleanor’s because his parents only want him back if he’s willing to play at being Katie for them.

Better still: Nancy is asexual, so there’s no strained romance or love triangle.

I guess the main reason I gave this four stars instead of five is because I want more, dammit! Though I think that McGuire is at her absolute, perfect best when writing short stories, this seems like a tale that all but screams for a lengthier treatment. I want to hear more about Eleanor and Lundy and Kade and Jack and Seraphina. More, more, more!

Luckily, this is the first in a series; judging from the Goodreads synopsis, it looks like the sequel will focus on Jack and Jill. (Yay!)

Now if only I could open a door to 2017 and get my grubby little paws on it right this second…

Nah, I’m just kidding. I’d visit the world of the mulefa, for sure.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)


Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Yes! Nancy Whitman is asexual; she enjoys flirting and appreciates other people’s beauty on an aesthetic level, but doesn’t harbor any romantic feelings towards others. Kade (previously known as Katie) Bronson is transgender. Fairies kidnapped Kade and took him to Fairyland; however, when they discovered that the girl they took was really a boy, they tossed him in a wishing well and exiled him back to his own world. His parents wouldn’t welcome him home unless he pretended to be their Katie, which is how he ended up at his great- (great-great-great) aunt Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Nancy’s roommate Sumi is Japanese. Christopher is Latino.

Animal-friendly elements: Not really. Nancy describes having eaten unicorn meat at a feast in the Halls of the Dead: “She had tasted unicorn at one of those feasts, and gone to her bed with a mouth that still tingled from the delicate venom of the horse-like creature’s sweetened flesh.” Also, Jack the mad scientist’s apprentice killed (and vivisected?) Angela’s guinea pig.


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