Top critical review
Latest Installment of Wayward Children Series Misses the Mark
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on March 27, 2022
The problem with being a completist is that you don't know when to stop. You keep right on going, long past the point of where you get anything out of what you're being a completist about. That's not true all the time, of course. There are any number of book series, TV series, and albums by groups that are good to the last drop, through and through. The Expanse series of novels comes to mind as something that is so good that I never got tired of it. But on the opposite end of the spectrum are things that just won't end, or end long after they should have. Yes, I bought Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Love Beach". I'm still buying the endless series of Dune novels, although at this point I'm 5 behind and may never catch up. And I did see all - what was it, five? - Transformer movies. Well, six I guess if you count Bumblebee, but that one was good, and honestly, I may have misremembered how many movies there actually are in that franchise (oh yeah, I saw all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, too). And for Pete's sake, I'm still listening to the podcast "Welcome to Night Vale", long after it ceased to be spooky and somewhat intense and creepy. It's played more for laughs now than anything else.
Which brings us around to Seanan McGuire and the Wayward Children series (to tie everything together, Seanan at one point loved "Welcome to Night Vale"; I don't know if she listens to it these days). To quickly recap, the series revolves around Eleanor West's School for Wayward Children. These children come home from fantasy worlds they've entered through doors that appear to them. When the children return, they have a difficult time adjusting to life in the "real world". Eleanor West takes them into her boarding school. Sometimes the children do adjust to life in the real world, but more often than the doors to those fantasy lands re-open and the children go back to the places where they feel most comfortable.
In "Where The Drowned Girls Go", Cora ended up in two fantasy worlds - the Trenches and the Moors - and the Drowned Gods of the Moors attempted to keep her here and haunt her even back in the real world. She chooses to leave Eleanor West's and enroll in the Whitethorn Institute. Whitethorn is a place for students who can't be helped by Eleanor go to try to put their fantasy past behind them. Students also go there because their parents send them there hoping the kids will come to their senses. But while Eleanor West's is nurturing, loving place, accepting of all, Whitethorn is a place where, Cora finds out, the point is to break the kids' spirits and mold them into the type of person that can live in the real world (there's that term again), leaving their fantasy worlds behind.
The problem, really, is that the message overwhelms the story. McGuire, as she does in all the Wayward Children books, tells us that everyone is an individual, and differences should be respected and celebrated, and that physical traits are not failures, but part of who that person is. However, there is so much more to be explored about the history and workings of the Whitethorn Institute; *that* part of the story, the part that many readers would probably find interesting, was buried under the message.
Granted, genre stories have essentially, been "message fiction" ever since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, although I'm sure that particular novel wasn't the first. The difference is that the message of something like Frankenstein doesn't overwhelm the story itself, as it does here. On the other hand, McGuire's writing is terrific, and everything I've read by her has been such, whether it's as McGuire or as Mira Grant, although I will admit to not have read significant amounts of either one. I'm basically tired of the message - which, by the way, is essential to get out in to the world and one that I wholehearted agree with and believe in - and wish she'd write more *story*. However, she's getting repetitive, and not really breaking any new ground. But hey, I'm a completist, and with only two more of these stories to go I guess I'll hang on for dear life. After that, I'll try to get to those Dune novels. Oh, who am I kidding?
The hardest thing about reviewing an audio book is reviewing the narration itself. I'm still learning that process, and may never get it right. I know what I like in a narrator, and I know what I don't like, and really the narrator must mesh with the material for the narration to be good. Whitney Johnson is a fine narrator for "Where The Drowned Girls Go"; there's not much else to say about her or the narration itself.