Beneath the Sugar Sky is the third novella in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, published by tor.com.
It’s a little hard to review this book, or even give a summary without spoiling parts of the first book, so if you haven’t read the series at all and are thinking about checking it out, I’d suggest reading Every Heart a Doorway before reading this review.
The series tackles the question of ‘what happens to kids that go through portal worlds and then return to our own?’ The answer seems to be that they they’re forever changed and trying to find their way back to that other place. As a result, many of them end up at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.
This novella features a girl named Rini, from one of the portal worlds, who comes to the Home in search of her mother, Sumi. Rini is from a future time in the world of Confection, the world Sumi had visited and was trying to find her way back to. Now that Sumi is dead in present time, Rini has begun to cease to exist and all of the work Sumi had done in Confection has been reversed. If she can’t find a way to bring Sumi back from the dead then she’ll disappear entirely and Confection will be left under the rule of a tyrant queen. Some of the kids from the school agree to help Rini find a way to bring back Sumi and save Confection. And thus our adventure begins.
This third book continues the theme of the series about being different and fitting in. There are people that don’t feel like they fit in anywhere, but there is always a place for them somewhere, and sometimes a doorway opens up and transports them to another world where they belong. One of the things I liked most about this book is that it didn’t focus on any one person and instead involved the group of kids working together to accomplish a goal. The kids are all very different, as are the worlds or ‘doorways’ they went through in their pasts, but through helping Rini they realize that they also have a lot in common. They also all have their own strengths that help the group along with their quest–they’re stronger together than they are on on their own. I loved the sense of teamwork and camaraderie in this story, and also learning more about some of the individual kids backgrounds and what makes them tick.
I thought the prose was fine in this one and fit the story well, but it didn’t quite have the same level of atmosphere that was created with the previous novella, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, which is still my favorite of the series so far. I loved the setting of Confection and all the descriptions of this candy and cake world. It reminded me a lot of the board game Candyland and took me back to my childhood. Points for some nostalgia!
One other thing that really struck me was the character of Cora. She’s a girl that is overweight and has always been made fun of or remarked upon because of that. She had visited a portal world where she was a mermaid and was graceful and athletic in the water. As a fat girl myself, this resonated with me on some other kind of level. My favorite thing is also to swim because I happen to be an ok swimmer and I, like a hippopotamus, am also a lot more graceful in the water than on land. Cora talked so much about being fat it was clear this somehow invaded every aspect of her life to the point where it made her assume if someone mentioned something to her it was somehow related to her fat-ness even when it wasn’t. This is, sadly, also familiar to me. I think now that I’m older and give a LOT less fucks about what other people think, this is less of an issue, and I believe part of the story is also about Cora gaining some of that confidence in herself as well. We don’t always have to be mermaids to be the bad-asses that we are!
Overall, I enjoyed Beneath the Sugar Sky quite a bit and I’m looking forward to more in the series. I want to learn more about these kids and the various portal worlds. I want to learn more about Eleanor West. And I really like Seanan’s writing which can be quite lovely and evocative at times. 4/5 stars.