Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

Beneath the Sugar SkyBeneath the Sugar Sky

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children, #3

Hardcover, 174 pg.
Tor Books, 2018

Read: January 11, 2018

Children have always tumbled down rabbit holes, fallen through mirrors, been swept away by unseasonal floods or carried off by tornadoes. Children have always traveled, and because they are young and bright and full of contradictions, they haven’t always restricted their travel to the possible. Adulthood brings limitations like gravity and linear space and the idea that bedtime is a real thing, and not an artificially imposed curfew. Adults can still tumble down rabbit holes and into enchanted wardrobes, but it happens less and less with every year they live. Maybe this is a natural consequence of living in a world where being careful is a necessary survival trait, where logic wears away the potential for something bigger and better than the obvious. Childhood melts, and flights of fancy are replaced by rules. Tornados kill people: they don’t carry them off to magical worlds. Talking foxes are a sign of fever, not guides sent to start some grand adventure.

But children, ah, children. Children follow the foxes, and open the wardrobes, and peek beneath the bridge. Children climb the walls and fall down the wells and run the razor’s edge of possibility until sometimes, just sometimes, the possible surrenders and shows them the way to go home.

So begins Beneath the Sugar Sky, the third installment of McGuire’s Wayward Children series. If you’d asked me why I was excited about this book before reading it, I could’ve given you a list of reasons — but I’d forgotten just how magical the books are. By the time I got to “ah, children” not only did I remember the magic, I was under its spell.

Sometime after the events of Every Heart a Doorway, two residents of Eleanor West’s Home are down at the pond (they returned from water-worlds, and this is the best they can get), when a naked girl lands in the pond (falling from apparently nowhere), demanding to see her mother, or at the very least, someone in charge. It turns out that this girl is Sumi’s daughter — the problem there is that Sumi died during Every Heart, so she didn’t get to mature a bit, go back to her world, defeat the evil Queen, get married and have Rini. Now, the Timeline is catching up to her, and faster than you can say Marty McFly, Rini is starting to disappear, finger by finger, limb by limb. This doesn’t sit well with her, as you can imagine.

I like existing. I’m not ready to unexist just because of stupid causality. I didn’t invite stupid causality to my birthday party, it doesn’t get to give me any presents.

So, four of the residents set off on a quest to bring Sumi back to life. This takes them across the U. S., into one of the worlds of the dead, and all around Sumi/Rini’s nonsense world. There’s heroism, mystery, sacrifice, triumph and cleverness all around, without which none of this would work, but with it all — and a healthy dose of magic — it’s a plan so crazy that it just might work.

I don’t want to talk too much about the characters apart from what I’ve already said (which is essentially nothing). In addition to Rini — we have a nice mix of new to us and returning friends — with one character that’s new to the Home as well as to us. I absolutely enjoyed getting the bonus time with the returning characters, the new (to us) characters were exactly the kind of kids you hope to find in these books. Also, some of the revelations about some secondary characters serve to explain a lot about the way this particular multiverse came to be and it’s pretty cool. So, basically, the character material in this novella is almost perfect.

I wasn’t as taken with Down Among the Sticks and Bones as I was with Every HeartEvery Heart was a wonderful mix of tragedy and violence with a sense of play (especially in the ideas and words) — there was hope throughout the book, even when it was dark for everyone and there was little reason for it. Down Among was about dashed hope and tragedy in a world of tragedy, dashed hopes and violence; yes, there as a little play with the language, and some moments of triumph, but they were all overshadowed. Which was fine, it was the story that needed to be told, and I’m not complaining, but Beneath the Sugar Sky was more of a return to the tone of Every Heart, so I liked it more than Down Among — I think it was a better book, too, but I could be wrong about it. I just know it was easier to like. There’s definitely tragedy, there are hard choices to be made — and I did say something about sacrifice — but there’s a strand of hope throughout that makes it so much easier to carry on.

One thing that has been on display throughout this series is a sense of play, a sense of fair tale worlds and logic reflected in the language McGuire uses — you’ve seen bits of it already above, just one more and I’ll call it good:

There was a door there, tall and imposing, the sort of door that belonged on a cathedral or a palace; the sort of door that said “keep out” far more loudly than it would ever dream of saying “come in.”

You know exactly what that door looks like, and you have a great sense of the environment around it, too. Just from that one sentence. McGuire has a great sense of style on display in the Toby Daye and InCryptid books, which is turned up in the Indexed serials, but is probably best seen in these books — capturing the feel of preternatural worlds has pushed her to unleash all of her pent-up linguistic magic. Even if I disliked the characters and stories she’s telling in this series, I think the language would bring me back.

I’m obviously a pretty big Seanan McGuire fan — just a quick glance at the archives will tell you that. But I’m willing to bet that even if I wasn’t predisposed to like her work, this series would’ve made me one — Beneath the Sugar Sky is a slice of literary perfection and I can’t encourage you enough to try it.

—–

5 Stars

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The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire

The Brightest FellThe Brightest Fell

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Toby Daye, #11

Hardcover, 289 pg.
DAW, 2017

Read: September 6 – 7, 2017

I still couldn’t see anything, which was unusual. Fae have excellent night vision. We’re like cats, able to see in the slightest trace of light. For it to be this dark, there had to be no light at all-that, or something had been done to my eyes. The thought caused a brief spike of panic, until I blinked several times and confirmed that I could still feel my eyes. No one had removed them or sealed my eyelids shut.

It says something about my life that this was a concern.

Surely, at some point, Toby will stop being lulled into a sense that everything is okay with the world — she starts this book by enjoying life, and a night out with her friends. Which is one of the surest signs that things are going to go horribly awry for her. And they do, before she can finish unwinding after the night out, there’s a knock on her door. Amandine, her mother, has stopped by for a visit.

Well, not really a visit. She wants to hire Toby to go find her older daughter, August. Toby’s never met her sister and really doesn’t want to get mixed up with anything involving August (who’s been missing for over a century) or her mother. Amandine has never been one to take no for an answer, instead, she takes hostages.

So, Toby’s off to find her sister August — which makes preventing war (like she’s been doing lately) look positively run-of-the-mill. I’m going to leave the plot summary at that. Because, like others, I don’t know how to talk about this without spoiling things that shouldn’t be. There are a couple of quotations (one from Toby, one from someone else) that illustrate what’s going on beyond this missing person hunt:

All my chickens were coming home to roost, and while I didn’t want them, I had earned them. I had earned them, every one.

“We are the sum of our actions . . . When desperation sets our course, those actions can blacken with remarkable speed.”

If that doesn’t describe the last couple of Iron Druid Chronicles, Dresden Files, and pretty much every Alex Verus book, I don’t know what does. The best of Urban Fantasy ultimately puts their protagonists in this situation — Toby’s been close to it before, but she’s dancing closer to the line here, sacrificing (or at least being prepared to sacrifice) so much to find her sister — and the number of things she won’t sacrifice is pretty small.

There’s not a whole lot of character growth and development here, there’s no time. We do see many of our old friends and acquaintances being themselves — maybe turned up to 11. One character, who will remain nameless, displays a degree of depth that we haven’t seen before. Toby grows a bit through this experience, if only to find out what extremes she’ll go to. She finds herself capable of changing her mind about someone –not easy for her to do (like most of us).

People are complicated. That’s the problem with people. lt would be so much easier if they could all be put into easy little boxes and left there, never changing, never challenging the things I decided about them.

This was a great read — in more than just the story, or characters — there are just some books where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is one of them (though the sum of its parts was pretty good) — everything just clicked. McGuire drew me in and kept me there between the voice, the fact that we have 10 books of history with these characters, and the drama (and little bit of comedy). There was one point, where Toby does something brave, reckless and potentially stupid (especially if it came back to bite her), where I found myself muttering, “Oh, oak and ash! No!” I figure any book that has you under its spell enough that you end up borrowing oaths and curses from the protagonist is a pretty engrossing read. She didn’t listen to me, and she sure should have.

From the fun as all get out opening scene, to the ominous final sentence that should fill every Toby fan with dread (although it promises some great books), McGuire was firing on all cylinders here. Yeah, plenty came home to roost in The Brightest Fell, and it meant that those closest to Toby suffered, but she found a way to be Toby throughout — she didn’t surrender who she was, and she got things done the best she could. All the while bringing the reader along through her highs and lows with her. Can’t ask for more than that. (well..I guess you could, but why?)

—–

5 Stars

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Down Among the Sticks and BonesDown Among the Sticks and Bones

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children, #2

Hardcover, 187 pg.
Tor, 2017

Read: June 14, 2017

Some adventures begin easily. It is not hard, after all, to be sucked up by a tornado or pushed through a particularly porous mirror; there is no skill involved in being swept away by a great wave or pulled down a rabbit hole. Some adventures require nothing more than a willing heart and the ability to trip over the cracks in the world.

This is the story about how Jack and Jill, the twins in the middle of the events in Every Heart a Doorway, got to The Moors, the dark world they had their adventures in before being returned to ours.

They were born to people that never should have had kids, had miserable childhoods (not that they realized it) — with two bright spots. The lesser, but more constant, bright spot was each other — they always had their twin. Just before this relationship was torn apart by the ways their parents were dividing them, the find themselves in a magic kingdom. They’re split up again, but this time the lifestyles they are immersed in better fit their personalities than what had been imposed on them by the World’s Worst Parents. Jack is trained by a mad scientist, learning to deliver medical care, reanimate the dead and more. Jill is pampered by a vampire that rules The Moors — being coached and guided into becoming one herself. We see them grow into strong individuals in this dark and deadly place before being returned to Earth.

The story is one we know already (assuming we read the first book), and even without that, it’s pretty clear how things are going to go. But that doesn’t make this any less gripping — the character work, the development of these two girls is fantastic. And the world created in The Moors is fantastic, you can see it — practically smell, feel and taste it. Best of all is the way that McGuire tells the story, the way she describes things (emotions, internal actions, external actions). It’s almost as magical as the first book.

It’s not a perfect novella, however. I’d have been tempted to call the previous one perfect, but this doesn’t quite make it. It seemed like half-story, half-manifesto against the kind of parenting McGuire hates.

This, you see, is the true danger of children: they are ambushes, each and every one of them. A person may look at someone else’s child and see only the surface, the shiny shoes or the perfect curls. They do not see the tears and the tantrums, the late nights, the sleepless hours, the worry. They do not even see the love, not really. It can be easy, when looking at children from the outside, to believe that they are things, dolls designed and programmed by their parents to behave in one manner, following one set of rules. It can be easy, when standing on the lofty shores of adulthood, not to remember that every adult was once a child, with ideas and ambitions of their own.

It can be easy, in the end, to forget that children are people, and that people will do what people will do, the consequences be damned.

It’s McGuire’s book, I’m not saying she shouldn’t feel free to use the space the way she wants — but it detracted from the story. Their parents have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, McGuire’s usually better than that. I think you could make the case that their shallowness, their utter horribleness fits the fairy-tale-ish story she’s telling. Honestly, I think that was the case — but it just doesn’t feel right. I would’ve like a little more time with the vampire himself — although maybe not getting more time with him, and learning about him primarily from the way that others react to him and his actions does make him creepier.

I was hoping (but didn’t expect) to see a little about what happened to the pair after Every Heart, oh well — hopefully soon.

I thought it a little heavy-handed in some places, but overall, I was just so happy to return to this series that I can get past it and recommend this one almost as highly as the last one.

—–

4 Stars

Lowering Expectations

When I get home from work today, my copy of Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire should be waiting for me, I’ve been eagerly waiting for this book for about a year now.

I know (well, I fear) that it won’t be as good as Every Heart a Doorway — it can’t be.

That doesn’t mean it won’t be good, just not as good. As long as I remember that, I won’t be disappointed. Which is my biggest fear.

Am I the only one who plays mind-games like this?

Once Broken Faith by Seanan McGuire

Once Broken FaithOnce Broken Faith

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Toby Daye, 10

Mass Market Paperback, 350 pg.
Daw, 2016

Read: January 14 – 17, 2017

My name is October Daye. My father was a human; my mother was, and is, a Firstborn daughter of Oberon, making her one of the more powerful people among the fae, and a definite pain in my still-mortal changeling ass. I was born and raised in San Francisco, which explains my willingness to stay in a city that’s historically been full of people who insist on trying to kill me at the slightest provocation. Faeries are real. Magic is real. My tendency to greet dangerous situations by plunging headfirst and seeing how long it takes to get myself covered head to toe in blood is also real.

I live an interesting life.

It drove me crazy to not be able to get to this for four months — and now having read it, I think I’m even more mad that I put it off. But the important thing is that I got to read it. Now I have to try to do something more than sound like raving, mindless fanboy here. Which will be difficult, because when it comes to Toby Day, that’s what I’ve been since book 3 (and was pretty close to it since halfway through book 1).

It’s been a few weeks since Toby overthrew the King in the Mists and things are pretty calm — she, her Fetch, her Squire, her fiancée and the rest of her friends are happy and comfortable. Which we all know can’t last for long.

What ruins this state this time is a giant conclave of North American Fae royalty being held in Queen Arden Windermere’s knowe — overseen by the High King and Queen. Kings, Queens and other nobles that we’ve met and/or heard of already — and many others — are meeting to discuss and decide what to do with the cure for elf-shot. The political and legal ramifications of the new cure are far bigger than anyone — including readers — thought. The discussion will prove to be a clash of traditionalists, reform-minded people, class-conscious rulers, those in favor of helping Changelings, and those who can’t be bothered to care about Changelings.

As this is a Toby Daye book, it doesn’t take too long for dead bodies to start to show up — and the blood (much of it Toby’s) starts to flow. As the hero of the realm, it’s Toby’s job to find out who’s responsible and stop them from shedding any more blood.

So there’s political intrigue, a closed room (well, knowe) murder mystery — but that’s not where the heart of the book is. It’s in Toby and her family. Toby and her liege are still on the outs, Arden’s brother and closest friend were elf-shot, Quentin’s parents are in town and watching him closely, Tybalt has to keep her at arm’s length to preserve his independence as King of the Cats in this setting, and so many other things. There’s plenty of drama in each area of the book, enough to satisfy any reader, but when you add them all together — it’s that special blend of magic that only someone as good as Seanan McGuire can conjure.

This one ticked every emotional check box for me — including the ones that made me very aware of all the dust in my immediate vicinity. I can’t think of a problem with this one — I’m not so much of a fanboy that I can’t see problems with McGuire’s work, but the last few in this series have been so great. There are few books this year that I’m looking forward to as much as/more than the next Toby Daye, and books like Once Broken Faith are the reason way. It doesn’t get much better than this.

—–

5 Stars

Shadowed Souls edited by Jim Butcher, Kerrie L. Hughes

Shadowed SoulsShadowed Souls

edited by Jim Butcher, Kerrie L. Hughes
Series: The Dresden Files, #14.5; InCryptid, #531; Simon Canderous, #0.5 (I’m guessing) ; and some others that I don’t have a tag for right now

Paperback, 330 pg.
Roc, 2016

Read: January 10, 2017


This is a collection of stories

based on the idea that good and evil are just two aspects of a complicated and very human story . . . [with plots that] play with the concept and invite the reader to explore the edges of their own darkness.

Eleven of the best Urban Fantasy authors working today contributed to this book, each bringing their worlds to life from that basis.

I’m not going to talk about each story, just about those from authors I talk a lot about here — I don’t have the time and energy to talk about Kevin J. Anderson, Kat Richardson, Tanya Huff or the others. If for no other reason, I feel like I should read more of these series/characters/authors before talking about them — many of whom are on my “Try Out Sometime” list.

We, like the book, have to start with “Cold Case” by Jim Butcher. Harry’s former apprentice, Molly, gets to shine in this story. This is one of her first tasks in her new role as Winter Lady — in Alaska, fittingly enough. There’s a large amount of on-the-job training going on for her — more than she bargains for, really. We also get to spend some time with Warden Carlos Martinez — been too long since we saw him. Perfect mix of action, humor and atmosphere — we also get a good idea what’s in store for poor ol’ Molly.

We got to meet another member of the Price family in Seanan McGuire’s “Sleepover”. Elsie Harrington is a half-succubus cousin to Verity, Alex and Antimony. Their presence is felt in the story, but other than a couple of name-drops, they don’t factor into things, it’s just in that series’ universe. Elsie’s watching Antimony in a roller derby match and finds herself kidnapped. Not for any nefarious reasons — just because some people needed her help and are bad at asking for favors. Elsie has a very Price-like voice and outlook on life, but she’s got her own way of doing things. I really enjoyed this — even if the ending felt abrupt.

Anton Strout got to revisit the series that gave him his start in “Solus,” which featured Simon Canderous as a rookie DEA Agent dealing with a haunted house. His partner/mentor, Connor Christos, has almost no use for him at this point and seems to have no interest at all in working with him/training him. Maybe I’m not remembering the character as clearly as I thought, but I thought I liked him as a person more. Still, this was early enough in the relationship that it was probably the right way to deal with it. Other than happening before I was ready for it, I really enjoyed the conclusion of this story. In short, “Solus” was good, it reminded me why I liked the series and why I miss it.

My one complaint about all these stories (save for “Cold Case”), was that they were too short. It’s not just Strout and McGuire. In all the stories, just as things started to get going, they resolved. I’m not saying I wanted a collection of novellas, but another 5-10 pages each, maybe?

Yeah, like all collections, you’re going to get some that just don’t work for a particular reader, and others that are going to get a reader pumped – and maybe one that’ll make you wonder why you bothered. Your lists of each will be different from mine — but there’ll be more than enough of the good ones to make it worth your while. You may even find a new series/author to check out.

—–

3 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

The Best Novels I Read in 2016

Yeah, I should’ve done this earlier, but I just needed a break from 2016 for a couple of days. Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1.

I truly enjoyed all but a couple of books this year (at least a little bit), but narrowing the list down to those in this post was a little easier than I expected (‘tho there’s a couple of books I do feel bad about ignoring). I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½ books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Morning StarMorning Star

by Pierce Brown
My original post
I was a little surprised (but not really) today to see that every book in the trilogy made my year-end Best-Of list — so it makes sense that this one occupies a space. But it’s more than that, this book was an exciting emotional wringer that ended the trilogy in a perfect way. I can’t recommend this one enough (but only for those who’ve read the first two). When I was informed a month ago that there was going to be a follow-up series? I let out a whoop, thankfully none of my family noticed, so I don’t have to feel too silly.
5 Stars

A Star-Reckoner's LotA Star-Reckoner’s Lot

by Darrell Drake
My original post
I’m afraid if I start talking about this one that I’ll spill a few hundred words. Let me just slightly modify something I already wrote and spare us all the effort (that could be better spent actually reading these books). I’m afraid I’ll overuse the word imaginative if I tried to describe what Drake has done here in the depth I want to in this book about pre-Islamic Iran. You haven’t read a fantasy novel like this one before — almost certainly, anyway — but you should.
4 1/2 Stars

Blood of the EarthBlood of the Earth

by Faith Hunter
My original post
This probably should be a dual entry with Blood of the Earth and Curse on the Land, but that felt like cheating. Between the two, I thought that this was a slightly better work, so it got the spot. While remaining true to the Jane Yellowrock world that this springs from, Hunter has created a fantastic character, new type of magic, and basis of a series. I love these characters already (well, except for those I wasn’t crazy about previously) and can’t wait for a return trip.
4 1/2 Stars

BurnedBurned

by Benedict Jacka
My original post
I’m just going to quote myself here: I’ve seen people call this the Changes of the Alex Verus series — and it absolutely is. I’d also call it the Staked in terms with the protagonists coming to grips with the effects that his being in the lives of his nearest and dearest has on their life, and what that means for his future involvement with them. Which is not to say that Jacka’s latest feels anything like Butcher’s or Hearne’s books — it feels like Verus just turned up half a notch. It’s just such a great read — it grabs you on page 2 and drags you along wherever it wants to take you right up until the “He is not actually doing this” moment — which are followed by a couple more of them.
5 Stars

Fate BallFate Ball

by Adam W. Jones
My original post
Since the Spring when I read this, I periodically reminded myself to keep this in mind for my Top 10, I was that afraid I’d forget this quiet book. It’s not a perfect novel, there are real problems with it — but it was really effective. I fell for Ava, just the way Able did — not as hard (and only in a way that my wife wouldn’t mind) — but just as truly. This one worked about as well as any author could hope one would.
4 1/2 Stars

All Our Wrong TodaysAll Our Wrong Todays

by Elan Mastai
My original post
My all-time favorite time-travel novel, just a fun read, too. I will over-hype this one if I’m not careful. So, so good.
5 Stars

The Summer that Melted EverythingThe Summer that Melted Everything

by Tiffany McDaniel
My original post
I’m not sure what I can say about this book that others haven’t — this trip into a magical realism version of the 1980’s Mid-West will get you on every level — it’s entertaining, it’s thought-provoking, the language is gorgeous, the characters are flawed in all the right ways. I wish this was getting the attention (and sales!) that it deserves — I really hope its audience finds it.
5 Stars

Every Heart a DoorwayEvery Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire
My original post
Here’s a book that doesn’t have to worry about attention or audience, it has one — and it’s probably growing. It deserves it. Short, sweet (and not-sweet) and to the point. I may have to buy a two copies of the sequel so I don’t have to fight my daughter for it when it’s released.
5 Stars

Lady Cop Makes TroubleLady Cop Makes Trouble

by Amy Stewart
My original post
Stewart took the really good historical crime novel she wrote last year and built on that foundation one that’s far more entertaining without sacrificing anything that had come before. We’ll be reading about the Kopp sisters for a while, I think.
4 Stars

Genrenauts: The Complete Season One CollectionGenrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection

by Michael R. Underwood
My original post
Yeah, here I am again, flogging Underwood’s Genrenaut stories — whether in individual novellas, audiobooks, or in this collection — you need to get your hands on this series about story specialists who travel to alternate dimensions where stories are real and what happens in them impacts our world — Underwood has a special alchemy of Leverage + The Librarians + Quantum Leap + Thursday Next going on here, and I love it.
5 Stars

There were a few that almost made the list — almost all of them did make the Top 10 for at least a minute, actually. I toyed with a Top 17 in 2016 but that seemed stupid — and I’ve always done 10, I’m going to stick with it. But man — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway here they are: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman (my original post), Children of the Different by SC Flynn (my original post), Thursday 1:17 p.m. by Michael Landweber (my original post), We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman (my original post), A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl (my original post), and Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja (my original post).

I hope your 2016 reads were as good as these.