I was a bit late to the party on the Wayward Children novella series, but since I’ve started voting in the Hugo Awards, I’ve made an annual event of reading last year’s entry. This year is no different, with Seanan McGuire’s seventh entry in the series, Where the Drowned Girls Go, earning her seventh consecutive appearance on the Best Novella shortlist–and her second win.
The Wayward Children series alternates between portal fantasies and the aftermath of the return, with the even-numbered entries telling focused tales inside a portal world, and odd-numbered entries telling of a school for returnees who find themselves unable to return to normal life. Where the Drowned Girls Go stars Cora, a mermaid struggling with destructive thoughts and impulses after the events of book five. When she hears of another school that takes a more hardline approach toward recovery after returning to our world, she decides that perhaps that’s what she needs to break the other world’s grip on her. Unfortunately, and predictably, the other school is evil.
This is my third odd-numbered entry in the Wayward Children series, and it may be the most entertaining, though it’s a bit messy. It will come as no surprise at all that the plot turns primarily into one of escape, and while the escape plan sometimes comes together too quickly and too conveniently, it’s hard to deny that it’s a fun ride. There are enough twists and revelations to keep things interesting, and the novella-sized plot chugs along at a brisk pace that never overstays its welcome. There were times that it challenges my suspension of disbelief, but it remained entertaining all the same.
Perhaps my biggest disappointment was how it handled the themes, though it’s not clear that this is a flaw of the book so much as an example of it telling the story it wanted to tell instead of the story I personally would’ve found more interesting. It’s not unusual for fantasy to tackle the impossibility of returning home after being thoroughly changed by one’s adventures. The Lord of the Rings famously concludes with Frodo unable to rejoin life in the Shire, and Nicola Griffith’s Spear—which I read directly before Where the Drowned Girls Go—strikes a similar note. With that in mind, the other school in the Wayward Children universe offered the possibility of a fascinating counterpoint to the focus on returning through the portals that had taken up so much of the prior odd-numbered books. Perhaps they may come across as harsh and uncompromising, but their animating concern is an understandable one. The two schools could truly represent two plausible but contradictory philosophies on how best to aid these wayward children.
Unfortunately, they undercut all of that by being evil. And that’s fine, for the story McGuire is telling. It’s a story of heroes and villains, one with marginalized protagonists striking back against those who would force their silence or conformity. It’s an entirely reasonable story to tell, and one that has won many devoted fans. But, seven entries deep in the series, it’s a story that doesn’t feel especially fresh. Entertaining, yes. But it’s been several books since this series found another level, and while I enjoyed Where the Drowned Girls Go, I can’t help seeing it as something of a missed opportunity.
Recommended if you like: the Wayward Children series.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Sequel, and it’s a Novella and a Book Club book that features Multiverses.
Overall rating: 15 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads.