Series: Wayward Children #3
Also in this series: Every Heart a Doorway
Beneath the Sugar Sky, the third book in McGuire's Wayward Children series, returns to Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children in a standalone contemporary fantasy for fans of all ages. At this magical boarding school, children who have experienced fantasy adventures are reintroduced to the "real" world.
When Rini lands with a literal splash in the pond behind Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, the last thing she expects to find is that her mother, Sumi, died years before Rini was even conceived. But Rini can't let Reality get in the way of her quest - not when she has an entire world to save! (Much more common than one would suppose.)
If she can't find a way to restore her mother, Rini will have more than a world to save: she will never have been born in the first place. And in a world without magic, she doesn't have long before Reality notices her existence and washes her away. Good thing the student body is well-acquainted with quests...
A tale of friendship, baking, and derring-do.
Warning: May contain nuts.
Also by this author: Every Heart a Doorway
A friend of mine sent me their ARC copy of Beneath the Sugar Sky because I’d expressed an interest in reading it. My interest largely stems from the promise that we’d get to see a little more of Nancy and the Halls of the Dead, but the book would have caught my interest anyway. It just sounds like a lot of fun.
CW: Fatmisia (that gets called out repeatedly), amisia, suicide
So first things first. Let’s talk about Nancy because then I can move on. Nancy is a tertiary character in this book, at best, and the whole narrative would run just as smoothly without her. The Halls of the Dead are pretty much everything Every Heart a Doorway suggested and I was left sorely disappointed. And because there’s only a chapter and a half devoted to them, let’s move on!
Let’s talk about Rini and her quest to save her mother! I’ll be honest, the second book with Jack and Jill’s background story didn’t appeal to me at all, but Rini’s quest to save her mother from dying before Rini is born? I was all over that. Add in that the book would feature a fat protagonist and then as I read I learned we get to see more of Kade? Oh, hell yes! Now throw in that Sumi and Rini’s world is a Nonsense world and logical rules go out the window and I am here for that pandemonium of narrative.
And, I’ll be honest, I really wish McGuire had spent a little less time trying to work out how these worlds all work. This is probably just an issue with me wanting something that I wasn’t getting, mind you. I was hoping for zany and sideways logical along the lines of Alice in Wonderland that let me try and work things out on my own and… that’s not the ARC of Beneath the Sugar Sky. The characters in it are very concerned with trying to understand the worlds they’re in (even if that amounts to “Just roll with it, don’t think about it too hard”) which is interesting and fun if you were hoping to see more of the actual worldbuilding. But I just wanted my nonsensical, what-even-is-causality adventure story romping across various worlds. T_T
But that’s just me. I’m sure I’ll enjoy that aspect far more on a reread when I know what to expect.
The protagonist of the story is Cora, a fat girl who went to a sea world, and who sort of gets caught up in Rini’s quest to save her mother mostly by accident and because if you’re one of the people who finds a naked person on a quest then you get to be one of the people who joins them on said quest. Cora is a delight. She’s smart. She’s brave. She’s compassionate. And she’s just a delight to read about and to watch the dynamics between her and the other people she’s travelling with. (Also if you’ve ever wanted a story wherein a fat character gets to save the day? Cora gets to save the day.)
It’s just a lot of fun to read the book. Watching Rini struggle to make sense of a world that’s a lot more Sense than she’s used to is a delight, as it the reversal when the characters finally end up in Confection. Confection, also, ends up saying a lot of interesting stuff about narratives and storyteller through the ages and… I’m not sure if McGuire did that on purpose, but I could easily see people writing essays about the way Beneath a Sugar Sky comments on narrative traditions and the effects of retellings and just. I really liked that aspect and it made me so happy to make those connections. 😀
And we get to see more of Kade! Kade is awesome. I really really liked that we got to see more of him in Beneath the Sugar Sky because Every Heart a Doorway didn’t really have much of a chance to introduce him. He’s just delightfully practical and sensible and a stark contrast to Rini.
We also get to learn more about Christopher and wow his story is just heartbreaking, especially given what it says about the worlds in question and the way the magic works in this setting.
But, really, what Beneath the Sugar Sky is is a celebration of Nonsense and the way that certain types of Nonsense actually have underlying and internal logic (such as the way Through the Looking-Glass is based on the rules of chess) and it’s just utterly glorious to read. It’s a ton of fun and I zoomed through the novella in no time at all. It was a lovely way to spend my afternoon and I’m really glad I got a chance to read it. I had fun.
(I could 100% have done with the plant-reproduction joke, the suicide imagery at the very end and the way it refers to the Halls of the Dead as our only ace character’s “natural habitat”, though.)