Beneath the Sugar Sky: A delightful confection with a heart for diversity

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Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire fantasy book reviewsBeneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire fantasy book reviewsBeneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

In Beneath the Sugar Sky (2018), the third book in Seanan McGuire’s WAYWARD CHILDREN series, we return to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, that haven for children and teens who once found their way through portals to other, magical worlds but have been involuntarily returned to ours. At Eleanor West’s boarding school, at least they find others who believe them and empathize, and desperately hope with them for a way to return to a magic world where they truly felt they belonged.

At Eleanor’s there’s a new girl, Cora, cautiously making her way through the halls and through daily life. Cora’s been teased and abused as overweight all her days, except for that glorious time she slipped through a portal to a world called the Trenches, where she was a particularly excellent mermaid and her fat was wonderfully functional. The only thing now remaining from her mermaid world is that Cora’s hair is still a dozen shades of green and blue (though Eleanor knows if these colors ever fade, Cora will never be able to find her way back).

A new adventure for Cora and her friend Nadya, another returnee from a watery world, begins with a splash: a girl falls from the sky into the pond behind Eleanor’s school, startling Cora, Nadya and the turtles. The falling girl is Rini, daughter to Sumi, a character from Every Heart a Doorway who died as a teenager while she was at Eleanor West’s school. Rini informs them that in her own timeline, Sumi was able to return through the portal to the magical Candyland-type world called Confection and defeat the evil Queen of Cakes, after which she married and had her daughter Rini. But now the malicious Queen is alive again and back in charge of Confection, and Rini is slowly disappearing, à la Marty McFly in Back to the Future, albeit far slower. Clearly Rini, Cora, Nadya and other friends (who will be familiar to readers of the first book) need to find a way to change the current reality! And so their quest to bring Sumi back begins.

Readers who enjoyed the first two books in the WAYWARD CHILDREN series will likely be equally charmed by Beneath the Sugar Sky. This novella throws open more portals, and readers are lucky enough to visit some magical worlds that we had only heard about before. McGuire balances imaginative whimsy with her insightful and thoughtful writing and engagement with meaningful issues of diversity and belonging.

As always, McGuire has an understanding and sympathetic eye for those youth who feel like outsiders in our society. In Beneath the Sugar Sky we engage not just with characters of alternative sexuality but also those who are overweight, disabled, of minority religion and races, and more. Cora struggles with self-acceptance because of her weight; Nadya is missing one arm, which she refuses to let hold her back; and there’s a delightful cameo by a girl wearing a hijab. It’s a pleasure to meet up again with several characters from Every Heart a Doorway, some of whom I hadn’t expected to see again.

I found Beneath the Sugar Sky much lighter in tone than the prior two novellas in this series, which makes it a more pleasant read, though it does deprive it of some of the heft and impact of the other two books. The multiverse/different timelines aspect of this story didn’t really hold water logically, but I suppose that can be excused at least to some extent where the world of Confection is, quite explicitly, a Nonsense world. The last paragraph of Beneath a Sugar Sky gave me goosebumps, along with a heartfelt wish to visit these characters and their worlds again.

Published January 9, 2018. A stand-alone fantasy tale from Seanan McGuire’s Alex-award winning Wayward Children series, which began in the Alex, Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Award-winning, World Fantasy Award finalist, Tiptree Honor List 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.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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3 comments

  1. I guess I’d better get my act together and start reading these books. :)

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