I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children #3
Published by Tor.com on January 9 2018
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
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The nitty-gritty: This story had some wonderfully magical elements and compelling characters, but as a whole it didn’t quite work for me.
“You were a mermaid, weren’t you? That’s what Nadya said.”
“I still am,” said Cora. “I just have my scales under my skin for now.”
It pains me to admit that I didn’t love this book nearly as much as the first two novellas in McGuire’s popular Wayward Children series. But I would be lying if I said it lived up to the dark and magical sense of wonder that I found in Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones. Now don’t get me wrong, there were lots of things I loved about Beneath the Sugar Sky, but they were simply elements, and I had some issues with the haphazardness of the story.
In case you aren’t familiar with this series, the stories center around Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a way station for children who have discovered doors to other worlds, but for whatever reason they have been cast out of those worlds and ended up back in ours. These poor, displaced children, who all want desperately to get back to their worlds, end up with Eleanor West, who helps them cope with and assimilate back into the “real” world, even as they long to find a doorway that will take them home.
Beneath the Sugar Sky brings back several characters from the first book, so if you haven’t read Every Heart a Doorway, you may be a little confused. When the story begins, newcomer Cora and her friend Nadya are hanging out at the turtle pond—they both came from water worlds so they feel most comfortable being around water—when suddenly, a strange girl with candy corn eyes literally falls out of the sky into the pond. Rini has just come from a world called Confection, where everything is made out of candy and sugar. Rini announces that she is looking for her mother, but when the others hear that her mother’s name is Sumi, they know that’s impossible, because Sumi is dead.
What follows is a twisted quest to find the ghost of Sumi and bring her back to life—before Rini fades away, forever.
Part of the charm of this series is reading about all the wonderful magical worlds that the characters have been to, and in that respect, McGuire succeeds—sort of. I loved hearing about Cora’s mermaid world and Nadya’s drowned world called Belyyreka. Also, we get to visit Nancy (a character from Every Heart a Doorway) in the Land of the Dead, where her favorite thing in the world is to stand as still as a statue.
However, I think where this story faltered for me was when the characters made it to the world of Confection, a literal “Candyland” where EVERYTHING is made of sugar and candy. In Confection, the ocean is made of soda, clouds are made of cotton candy and there are fields of candy corn. I got both The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland vibes from their time in Confection and it just felt too sweet and precious to me. I missed the darkness of Down Among the Sticks and Bones, which was nowhere to be found this time around. Beneath the Sugar Sky was also lacking when it came to delivering an emotional punch. I just didn’t care about Rini’s plight (nor did I understand how she could exist when her mother was only a teen when she died?? There was some twisty time travel going on, I guess!) The characters journey from one land to another and it just never came together into a cohesive story for me, nor did I feel that they really learned anything by the end of their adventure.
What I did love about this story were the characters. Christopher came from the Land of the Dead, and he has the ability to command skeletons with his bone flute, which only the dead can hear. I loved this little detail and especially the fact that the bone is actually one of Christopher’s! Christopher is instrumental in helping Rini find Sumi, as he’s able to call up her skeleton from its burial place.
Cora and Nadya are new characters, and I loved both of them. McGuire loves to add messages to this series, and this time she uses Cora, who is overweight and has considered herself ugly her entire life, to emphasize that it’s what’s inside that matters, not what’s outside. I had a much more emotional connection to Cora than I did to Rini. My heart broke to read that when Cora fell into her mermaid world by accident, she suddenly became beautiful, but now that’s she’s been cast out, she feels just as ugly as she once believed herself to be. I do hope McGuire decides to go into more detail about Cora’s backstory at some point, because she’s definitely worth more page time.
As for Nadya, I won’t tell you too much, because if you do read the story you can discover all the cool things about her for yourself. I was left with the impression that the next novella in the series (assuming there is a next one??) is going to focus on Nadya and her Drowned World, and I can hardly wait.
This is a series that I highly recommend, even though Beneath the Sugar Sky is my least favorite story so far.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.