Another year, another Wayward Children installment. Seanan McGuire’s series continues, and apparently, so do I. Close followers of The Quill To Live may see this review and wonder why I’m here. Last year, I wrote a melodramatic Dear John letter to the Wayward Children series and embarked on a search for fantasy that better fits my tastes. I found exactly that, but the allure of Where The Drowned Girls Go (the seventh novella in the series) pulled me in like a riptide and whisked me away, once again, into a story of portal worlds and what happens to the kids who get thrust out of them.
Cora Miller, who last appeared in Come Tumbling Down, lives a dreary life at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Her encounter with the Drowned Gods of the Moors left a mark on her, and she worries The Trenches (her original portal world) won’t accept her back with the mark of the Moors lingering. She asks Eleanor West to transfer her to a mysterious sister school—The Whitethorn Institute—hoping the staff there can help her sever her connection to the Drowned Gods. Eleanor reluctantly agrees, and Cora transfers. The Whitethorn Institute, however, is more sinister than she had expected. If Cora stays, she may lose her connection to the Moors…and any portal world, including the Trenches.
If you’re lost within that summary, it’s okay. Wayward Children has a lot of lore, despite the short length of each installment. Each book adds new layers to a universe that spans countless worlds, including our own, which acts as a sort of incubator for troubled kids who might benefit from portal worlds. The series alternates: one novella set primarily in our world, one set in a portal world. This seventh book puts us in our own reality, and The Whitethorn Institute is somewhat of a conduit through which new information is pumped.
Most of the book has to contend with building a new status quo, and McGuire mostly succeeds in that regard. At Whitethorn, children are regimented to juxtapose the workings of their true homes, the worlds they grew to love. The matrons running the school are drab and nameless, doling out lessons with predictable monotony. Cora, a hero in the Trenches, instinctively seeks ways to fight back and find out what exactly is going on at the school. Whitethorn is an intriguing expansion of Wayward Children lore, breathing new life into the real-world side of the series.
The problem? I’m still not invested. Last year, I felt at peace leaving Wayward Children to readers more inclined toward the unique genre mishmash the series provides. McGuire packs a surprising amount of punch into these books. The characters deal with insecurities and internal conflicts galore. Many of these issues are left on the cutting room floor by other authors, so I commend McGuire for writing about the intersex protagonist of the previous book or the plus-sized protagonist of this one. Representation matters, and McGuire nails it. It’s one of the reasons I come back to Wayward Children every time I think I’m out. But, despite its litany of positives, these stories are feeling tired and repetitive. I don’t feel like I am getting more out of them at this point.
Add into the mix a staggering number of portal worlds, each with its own cast, rules, and magic. Then look to the complex and as-yet unrevealed backstory of Eleanor West, who harbors children in their time of need. Complicate matters with the Whitethorn Institute, where children who return to our world are conditioned to deny the truth that so recently set them free. It all adds up to a win on paper.
But in reality, I’m ready to admit it’s not for me…for real this time. I read Where The Drowned Girls Go in two sittings because it’s short and I just wanted to get through it. I read it because other reads were on the horizon, and this novella was simply along the way. What a terrible reason to read a book, because others lie beyond. My experience with Where The Drowned Girls Go, then, was predictably murky. I couldn’t revel in the good fantasy wares at the McGuire prose emporium because I was checking to see if the store down the road had a better price.
As I thought more about it, maybe price wasn’t the issue. Maybe I just didn’t need what McGuire was selling. Finally, it’s time to leave Wayward Children on the shelf for someone who will appreciate it more than I can.
Rating: Where The Drowned Girls Go – 6.0/10
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this title are my own.