((This review has been edited to clarify some thoughts whose awkwardness resulted in a comments discussion in which I said some other unclear things i((This review has been edited to clarify some thoughts whose awkwardness resulted in a comments discussion in which I said some other unclear things in a dumb, condescending way, for which I again apologize.))
This book. Oh, this book! I can't remember the last time I gulped a book this hard. I loved everything about this book: the writing was beautiful, the dialog sharp and clever, the premise was delightful, the plot well-paced and the characters - oh, the characters! - they were fascinating and so satisfactorily complex.
I feel like there was a small quantity of my childhood dreams encapsulated in the premise. Children who have found magical doorways to other realms, but were forced to return to Reality, are now left adrift in a world that doesn't seem to fit them, hoping beyond hope to find their doorways again. While I never found a doorway myself (what?!), I feel like I spent my entire childhood hoping to, maybe even expecting to, so that the yearning these characters felt seemed almost familiar to me.
I loved the way our protagonists were generally people whose other lands bore rough edges, and even Sumi - former resident of a candyland - was sharp and prickly and slightly off-center. I liked how no one was quite what you expected them to be, at first glimpse.
The diversity of the characters was delightful, being inclusive of a handful of oft-overlooked identities who deserve more love from the fiction universe. They weren't handled with the subtlety that N.K. Jemison used in The Fifth Season (a feat that impressed me hugely), but in a world populated by teenagers, subtlety is not necessarily the right tack anyway. If characters who don't fit gender or sexuality norms exist in Jemison's world with no comment and no judgment, that is not the world people of our reality or McGuire's reality inhabit, and I found McGuire's treatment of these kids and their challenges to be careful and encouraging, despite the depicted challenges (even if, as I pointed out in a comment tied to my original version of this review, I worried about how Nancy's expectations about her Lord of Death would ultimately play out in terms of her ability to find a Happily Ever After).
I didn't see the murder mystery coming, though it was just the plot twist the story needed to move it out of a story about people who Exist into a story about people who Do. I didn't have too much trouble figuring out whodunnit, but I don't think hiding that reveal was the point of the telling, and even it had a lovely little twist at the end.
(view spoiler)[I almost liked the future Nancy envisioned for herself (being Kade's righthand-woman as he runs the future version of the school) better than the ending she actually got, though I confess this might be selfishly tied to the desire to see her again in future installments of the series. I suppose a return to her Home doesn't preclude seeing her again in the future though, so maybe I shouldn't worry, and the premise is so sturdy that I think it will easily handle a new set of characters with every new installment, if that's the way McGuire goes. (hide spoiler)]
Love love love. Recommend to everyone who ever had a hankering for the mysterious or magical as a child, anyone who ever felt like maybe they just didn't belong to this world....more