Tor.com, 14 January 2021
Available as: HB, 176pp, e, audio
Source: Advance e-copy via NetGalley
Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children series is one of my firm favourites, so I was pleased and honoured to have the opportunity to read Across the Green Grass Fields early via a free advance e-copy from NetGalley.
Across the Green Grass Fields is a stand-alone book in the series, focusing on Regan Lewis, a young girl, and later woman, who is desperate to be taken as normal. There is no overt reason, to begin with, why she shouldn't be seen as 'normal' but McGuire writes as ever with real insight into young peoples' lives (yes, I know writing "young people" marks me as ancient but there we are). In this case, the insight is into that child-growing-up anxiety, bound up with being in and out of friendship groups, in which 'normal' isn't so much a state of being as a state of grace. Not to be normal is to be cast into the outermost darkness and Regan sees that happen to a friend when Laurel, queen of her little circle, excommunicates Heather. Not wanting to suffer a similar fate, Regan's development is bent towards staying in favour. Even if Regan's mother assures her that there are many valid ways of being a girl, Laurel's narrow worldview still prevails.
All of which sets Regan up for a terrible fall when she can't, in the end, stay within the boundaries that Laurel draws - sending her fleeing, as Wayward Children must, into a world that welcomes her. For Regan, a keen horsewoman, this is the Hooflands, a world of centaurs, unicorns, kelpies, hippogriffs and other equine beasts. As you'll know if you have read other books in this series, it is not, though, a safe world, it is not a world of cosy wonders. There are real dangers and challenges here and humans are seen as bringing crisis and change to the Hooflands. There must be a reason for Regan's coming, and while she bonds immediately with foal Chicory who becomes the true friend she never had among other humans, there's a sense of doom having over things from the beginning.
McGuire's writing in this series always has great heart and generosity, exposing hypocrisy and bigotry - whether in the human world or through one of those doorways - mercilessly but also respecting and celebrating friendship and love. Across the Green Grass Fields is no exception, although the message is perhaps more subtle than in some of the previous stories. Ostensibly, Regan's story is a quest - she's a sort of Dorothy, definitely not in Kansas any more - but the real journey she's on is I think more one of coming to terms with, of learning to love, herself, 'normal' be bothered. We never actually see the culmination of that once Regan has sorted out the problems of the Hooflands, but in a sense it's not needed. We are told enough, and having read the preceding books, can fill in Regan's subsequent story and see how things will go and how she will arrive at Eleanor West's school (never mentioned in the book!) without having to be told any more.
In that sense, while completely standalone, this is also a book that should be opened after, at least, reading Every Heart a Doorway, and possibly one or two of the others - not because of particular spoilers, but because these slim, beautiful and true books are all really part of the same wider story and some background will help in understanding it. It's one story that celebrates difference, loyalty and growth, and I would strongly recommend Across the Green Grass Fields (and all the series) to you.