The 2021 Hugo Nominees: 'Come Tumbling Down' by Seanan McGuire Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The 2021 Hugo Nominees: 'Come Tumbling Down' by Seanan McGuire Review

Alex Wallace returns to the Moors.
The more I read of Seanan McGuire, the more she impresses me. I started with In an Absent Dream, part of her Wayward Children series that nevertheless stands alone reasonably well. To prepare for this article, I read the rest of the series; long story short, I was enthralled. These are portal fantasies reminiscent of C. S. Lewis; they all involve children, mostly girls, who feel out of place in our world and find portals to other worlds to which their talents and personalities are much better suited. The whole series is about escapism, literally and figuratively, and the things that make us feel out of place.

The fifth entry in this series, Come Tumbling Down, is nominated for this year’s Hugo Award for Best Novella. Some might say it’s standalone; I’d disagree with that. If you want to appreciate Come Tumbling Down, I would recommend the first two books in the series, Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones, to get a sense of all the characters. Some secondary characters are fleshed out in Beneath the Sugar Sky, but it’s not strictly necessary. In any case, I would recommend you read all of them anyway, because they’re all fantastic.

Come Tumbling Down begins with something of an inversion of the series’ standard opening: a door appears in the school in which so much of the series takes place, and two people, one carrying the other, stumble out, to the consternation of the pupils already in the room. They turn out to be two characters that had taken center stage in Down Among the Sticks and Bones. This scenario becomes even stranger when we learn that one of the new arrivals is actually trapped in her sister’s body; the sister is off doing nefarious things in cahoots with a vampire. Naturally, several of the wayward children of this school set off into this other world, the Moors, to help her get her body back.

Like much of the series, this book spends a lot of time developing its characters. For those of you who have read Down Among the Sticks and Bones, I can say, with great pleasure, that this book takes its two central characters and brings their relationship as sisters to new frontiers. Through these two, McGuire leads an impactful discussion on the nature of sisterhood and what two people who have been through so much together really owe each other. Due to the peculiarities of their relationship, it is also a discussion of nature versus nurture.

The other wayward children get to shine here too, particularly Kade and Cora, who together get what is perhaps the best scene in the novella. Sumi, the standout character from Beneath the Sugar Sky, also gets to shine.

The environments here are the ones encountered in Down Among the Sticks and Bones, with the enthralling wasteland that is the Moors. There are more interesting interior environments that were unseen in the second book of the series, and they are as lushly rendered as the rest of the books.

Come Tumbling Down takes a lot of great things about the Wayward Children series and brings it to new thematic depth, enhancing the experience of reading the series as a whole. Any fan of McGuire’s work is strongly recommended to read it post-haste.

The 2021 Hugo Nominees: Reviews
'Finna' by Nino Cipri
'Ring Shout' by P. Djèlí Clark
'Upright Women Wanted' by Sarah Gailey
'Riot Baby' by Tochi Onyebuchi
'The Empress of Salt and Fortune' by Nghi Vo

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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