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Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

In all those portal fantasies we love so much, what happens after the hero returns home to our world?

An open book rests upon a table next to a stack of books and a cup of tea. Sunlight shines upon the table.
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash, 2016.

The concept behind Every Heart a Doorway is brilliant: in all those portal fantasies we love so much, what happens after the hero returns home to our world? How do they adjust to life in our banal, bureaucratic universe? Fortunately for Nancy, who has just returned from the Hall of the Dead, her parents have transferred her to a boarding school filled entirely with kids like her, kids who have found doorways to magical lands and then got sent back to the “real world.”

Every Heart a Doorway has a fabulous central conceit, likeable (and delightfully diverse) characters, and a fun plot. If you enjoy portal fantasies, go read this.

I do have one reservation. Every Heart a Doorway is made up of two parts, and the two parts felt oddly disjointed to me. In the first part, Nancy begins adjusting to life at her new boarding school, and in the second part, the adventure really takes off. While I enjoyed reading the whole novella, I felt the first half made some promises to me that the second half promptly broke. In short, I expected the second half to be concerned with an internal conflict in a non-magical world, and I got the opposite of that. I enjoyed the second half that I got, mind you, but I also feel like a story I wanted to read got stolen right out from under me.

Normally, I am hesitant to critique a book for being something other than what I wanted or expected it to be. (See my post on Children of God.) Nevertheless, I raise this critique here because I felt like the first half of Every Heart a Doorway really set up some promises that the second half ignored. Granted, Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson also sets up one type of story and ends up as altogether another story, and I loved Aurora. However, Aurora at least left clues in the first half as to where it we might end up. With Every Heart a Doorway, I felt as if I was reading one book for the first half and then jumped into a parallel universe and was reading a similar but different book for the second half.

Every Heart a Doorway may have felt disjointed to me, but I must reiterate that its world was exceptionally interesting, its characters were likeable and impressively diverse, and its plot was simply fun. Seanan McGuire has contracted with to write more novellas set in this universe, and I’m going to read them.