Every Heart a Doorway — Seanan McGuire

After seeing her at a reading at Borderlands in San Francisco, I became a fan of Seanan McGuire. Before that reading, I’d only seen her work in Altered Perceptions, wherein she wrote a very moving personal piece about living with OCD. I knew she was rather prolific (from her essay more than anything else), and knew that I wanted to read something by her, the gods of my ever-growing to-read list willing.

The opportunity came to request her upcoming novella, Every Heart a Doorway from NetGalley, and I was delighted. Two birds with one stone, as they say.

Every Heart a Doorway is a tale of belonging, of a community of misfits and ill-fits, and of self-discovery. While it is, superficially, a simple tale, it is built on a wonderful, rich concept that is so large in scope that it encompasses worlds. It’s appeal lay in its telling-which was beautifully executed-and in its characters, a varied group of wonderfully zany, morbid, logical, calm children.
Set in a boarding school for children who’ve journeyed “beyond the looking-glass,” Every Heart a Doorway follows Nancy, a girl who found her way through a door in the cellar into the halls of the dead. Upon her return, like all children who go through portals to other worlds, she was somewhat incompatible with her old life.

One of the things I liked best about Every Heart a Doorway is the way McGuire built a system around the various magical worlds. While the story never delved deeply into this “magic system,” its presence served as a compass that positioned the characters in a framework, made their wild variations make perfect sense, and piqued my curiosity more than a little. The “handwavium” of many fairytale worlds is effectively nullified by an intellectual and academic approach.

The school is filled with characters who traveled to fascinating worlds, all of whom want to return, thinking them their true homes. For whatever reason-different for each child-they were returned to reality. Some were expelled, others returned as a test, administered to ensure their commitment to their particular world or their desire to stay in reality.

When students (and eventually a teacher) start turning up dead-brutally murdered-a panic sets in over the school. Nancy and her (few) friends set about uncovering the mystery. The challenge makes makes marvelous use of the skills or abilities some of the children gained in their worlds, leading to fantastical moments-like a boy animating the skeleton of one of the victims using a flute carved of bone-that make the story shine.

Every Heart a Doorway was a beautiful read, and some of the underlying messages could do with wider spreading-inclusion, openness, self-confidence-especially in this troubled sociopolitical climate.

I hope that Every Heart a Doorway is a taste of a larger world McGuire is building-I picture a world-hopping heroine embarking on many adventures in this multi-verse-but if it is not, Every Heart a Doorway was a delightful and satisfying enough morsel on its own. It is yet another fantastic novella that you should not miss.

Pre-order Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway on Amazon.com. (Using that link helps support The Warbler!)