I love a good story. I love a good fantasy story that takes the tropes and shamelessly says “yes, yes these are the tropes - there’s a chosen one, and an epic quest, and clear lines of good and evil.” It’s comforting, you know?
Equally, I love a good fantasy story that looks at those tropes and goes … “hmmm. Not this time. How about this?” Neil Gaiman is good at this, as is China Mieville in novels like Un Lun Dun and Railsea.
And in Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan Maguire takes the notion of happily ever after and just kind of … shakes it down for lunch money. She makes it empty out its pockets and then runs off laughing.
It’s a short book - about 170 pages, and won this year’s Hugo for best novella.
The ideas that are packed in to such a short space are absolutely astonishing.
It posits the idea: what if the fantasy worlds were real? What if you could take one step and end up somewhere else? But - what happens when you come back? The children who return to the mundane from their fantasy worlds often end up at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. There, they meet other children like themselves who have returned from a fantasy realm and cannot find their footing any more in the “real” world.
Nancy arrives at the school as one of these wayward children, but her arrival sets of an unforseen chain of events, murder and nothing will be the same.
It’s so good, and I keep mulling over its ideas. It’s clever without being showy or show-off, and that subtlety feeds into the story in the best possible way.