Review – Every Heart a Doorway

Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children No.1) – Seanan McGuire

Tor, 2016

Everyone knows that sometimes, children get lost. And the ones who come back with strange stories about other lands, where they wore crowns and fought their enemies and fell in love…well, if they’re lucky, they find their way to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, where everyone is re-learning how to live in this world and hoping against hope they’ll find their way out again, back to the worlds that they now call home. Nancy knows that she belongs in the silence and shadows of the Halls of the Dead, not in this quick and waking place. But someone else is even more desperate for escape – and willing to bring death into the school to get it.

If you ever finished Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with an immense sense of frustration, this is the book for you. It takes on the genre of portal fantasy with the simple question: what happens when the children come home? With an asexual protagonist and a cast of diverse, unpredictable characters, Every Heart a Doorway is both a murder mystery and a sharp, intelligent overturning of some very familiar tropes. The next book in the series is Down Among the Sticks and Bones, which is slated for release in June of this year.

Review – Sparrow Hill Road

Sparrow Hill Road (Ghost Stories No.1) – Seanan McGuire

DAW Books, 2014

Rose Marshall died in the summer of 1952 when her car was driven off Sparrow Hill Road, and that was only the beginning of her problems. Rose is a hitcher now, a ghost of the roads, and the rules that she doesn’t live by are as unforgiving as they are arcane. Over the years she has become a story – the Phantom Prom Date, the Girl in the Green Silk Gown – and sometimes stories draw the wrong sort of attention. From rookie ghost-hunters to drivers on their last hope, her fellow unquiet dead to the vengeful living, Rose has more to fear now than she ever did when she was alive. Worst of all is the man who killed her that night on Sparrow Hill Road. Given the chance, he is going to finish the job, and there are much worse things than death.

Sparrow Hill Road is written as if it was once a collection of ghost stories, a bit non-linear, which conveys Rose’s experience of the world incredibly well. I loved it. The layered mythology, from modern American ghost stories all the way down to Hades and Persephone, creates a complete and fascinating world, and Rose, with her good heart and bad attitude, is a marvelously flawed protagonist. I’m very much looking forward to reading more in this series.

Review – Discount Armageddon

Discount Armageddon (InCryptid No.1) – Seanan McGuire

Corsair, 2012

Valerie Pryor is on track for a career in the glittering, gruelling world of ballroom dancing. A well-known face on the competitive circuit and a runner-up in the nation’s most popular dance show, she’s making all the right moves. Unfortunately for Valerie, she doesn’t exist. Inventing an alternate identity is a necessary compromise for Verity Price if she’s to have a hope of chasing her dream. As a daughter of the notorious monster-studying, dimension-hopping, knife-wielding Price family, not only does her daily life contain more shapeshifters, telepaths and bogeymen than your average twenty-something, but there’s also a risk that the far more ruthless and better resourced Covenant of St. George will sweep into town to purge all things paranormal. When cryptid girls start going missing in New York, it is Verity’s responsibility to investigate. Mysterious disappearances, rooftop ambushes and making her debut in the local tango scene – it’s all in a night’s work for a Price girl.

This is fun, fast-paced urban fantasy led by a protagonist who is equally interested in daggers as the Argentine tango. Verity is refreshingly sure of her strength (which does not come and go as suits the presence of her love interest) and her world contains a wide variety of cryptid species that goes much further that the usual werewolves and vampires. I was particularly delighted by the dragon princesses, it’s such an inventive take on a classic fairy tale trope. The series continues with Midnight Blue Light Special.

Review No.134 – Deadline

Deadline – Mira Grant (Newsflesh No.2)

Orbit, 2011

The zombies rose twenty seven years ago, but for Shaun Mason the world ended last year when his sister Georgia died. Her voice has been talking inside his head ever since, and anyone who tries to stop him talking back will get hurt. He has only one purpose left: to find the people who ordered her murder and make them pay. His breakthrough comes in the form of a doctor legally declared dead, who arrives on his doorstep with a trail of research that could bring down one of the most powerful organisations in the world. The truth will change everything. If Shaun lives long enough to tell it…

I read my way into the new year with Deadline and let me tell you, if there’s anything that could make these books more alarming, it would be reading them in the summer of 2014, when the zombies are predicted to rise. And it didn’t matter – I couldn’t tear myself away. Deadline doesn’t have as strong a structure as Feed, and the word ‘crazy’ is definitely overused, but the momentum is relentless, the plot twists are hairpin turns and the ending left me stunned (also, desperate to get hold of book three). The trilogy concludes with Blackout.

Review No.133 – Feed

Feed – Mira Grant

Orbit, 2010

In the year 2014, two of humanity’s greatest medical discoveries mutated into one virus so powerful even death can’t loosen its grip on a host. More than twenty years after zombies went from horror movie cliché to global reality, the survivors exist in a precarious balance between rampant paranoia and unthinkable practicality, and reporting on the creaking edifice of modern civilisation are ambitious bloggers Georgia and Shaun Mason. When they are chosen to cover the campaign of presidential candidate Senator Ryman, it seems like the best chance they’ve ever had, but there are risks even they could never imagine and a story that will taint everyone it touches. If they don’t break it fast, it might break them instead…

Mira Grant is the pseudonym of urban fantasy author Seanan McGuire and Feed is the first book in her Newsflesh trilogy. I have little fondness for zombies, or indeed horror at all, but this book kept showing up on my radar and sometimes it’s worth taking a flying leap out of your comfort zone just to see what’s happening on the other side. Feed is a fiercely intelligent, uncompromising narrative set within a brilliantly realised world with memorable characters entirely capable of breaking your heart. The series continues with Deadline.