Map of Blue Book Balloon

21 January 2020

Review - Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire

Jacket art by Robert Hunt
Come Tumbling Down (Wayward Children, 5)
Seanan McGuire, 7 January 2020 (USA), 1 February 2020 (UK)
HB, 206pp.

I bought my copy of this book (I was lucky to find a shop selling it in late December).

I'm really enjoying McGuire's Wayward Children series. Eleanor West's Home [and School] for Wayward Children caters for the casualties of fairytales - the kids who've come back from a Wonderland, a Goblin Market, the Halls of the Dead or the Land of Candy, and find themselves unable to live in the "ordinary" world. At the School, they can complete their education in both mundane (maths) and potentially useful (how to treat wounds) subjects while waiting to see if a portal will appear to take them back to what they now thing of as home.

The whole thing is something of a metaphor for those kids who are - due to gender, sexuality, geekiness or whatever - ill at ease with their homes, their families, the judgemental world at large. McGuire delivers this with subtlety - while some of them are, indeed, gay or trans (or have issues with food or simply prefer to inhabit basements which happen to have autopsy tables and jars of pickled things) the burden of the kids' difficulties and of that judgy world is on their affiliations with The Moors, with the Drowned Gods or the Skelton world of Mariposa. That's why their parents have, with relief, accepted Miss West's offer of a place at the Home.

Over five (so far) books McGuire has been using this framework to explore the rights and wrongs of participation in such worlds, the comradeship that develops between the (very different) young people and the underlying dynamics of their families which have led to them preferring, say, life as a Mad Scientist dwelling on a lightning-racked hill to an existence as part of a middle-class, middle-American family. As I read these books, McGuire is offering enormous sympathy, enormous solidarity to those who feel judged, rejected, out of place, for whatever reason and indeed I find the sketches of what happened before - how a pair of twins may fall so out of sympathy with each other as to become deadly rivals, for example - as interesting as the fantasy narratives that follow. McGuire has, I think, a great insight into human nature, particularly into the dynamics of "strangeness", of not fitting in, and she writes with great empathy.

McGuire has also shown, though, (particularly in the last book, In An Absent Dream) that life in one of these other worlds isn't by any means a balm for all the problems one may face, that indeed things can go fearfully, dangerously wrong. Lundy, the hero of that book, isn't there in Come Tumbling Down to tell us whether such a life is "worth it" but we see the same question played out as a number of the characters we have come to know and, yes, love, go on quest to help one of their own. Come Tumbling Down is part of a sequence (with the first book, Every Heart a Doorway, and the second, Down Among the Sticks and Bones) which focuses on two sisters, Jack and Jill, who discovered, and lived for years in The Moors, a world of vampires, mad scientists and lightning-powered necromancy. Now Jack returns to the school seeking help, after her sister does something truly monstrous, and suddenly everyone must go to war - Kade, Christopher, even Sumi from the world of Confection (who proves in many ways to be the most ruthless and clear sighted of all).

I enjoyed this book. It's a fairly simple mission based story, albeit with some moral complexities, and I think really tops off the Moors sequence (previously left hanging) in a fairly neat and satisfactory way, though tempting some of our heroes along the way with a kind-of-OK solution to their spiritual homelessness. Might any of them accept living in The Moors as better for them than this world, our world, even if not exactly what they yearn for? The reader will hope they resist that temptation, but one can see that it is, truly, a temptation compared with the risk that a door to one's chosen world may never actually open.

I am though now desperate to hear something about Mariposa, where Christopher met and fell in love with the Skeleton Girl or the goblins of whom Kade is a prince or perhaps mermaid Cora's watery world. All these have been hinted at and I hope that, as McGuire has been happy to dot backwards and forwards in the timeline (the order the books take place in is actually 4, 2, 1, 3, 5), she will now give us origin stories for those characters (accepting that the books aren't really about the origins but the consequences, I would still like to know what made these kids fit those worlds, as we were shown for Jack and Jill).

There are also some developments at the Home/ School hinted at here, which I hope will also be explored so there seems to be a lot to keep this series going: five books in, it's anything but flagging!

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