Seanan McGuire can be so hit or miss for me, and this one was, unfortunately, another miss. But it was a very near-miss, and one that could easily have been a hit, as I love Jack Wolcott and was panting to read this story of her continuing adventures.
Last we’d seen, Jack had taken the corpse of her twin sister Jill back to The Moors to be resurrected. Christopher took over Jack’s old room in the basement of Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children so is thus the only person on hand for the extravagant yet fleeting appearance of a new doorway there. Two people emerge from the lightning-generated door before it promptly disappears again. Astute readers will instantly recognize Alexis, Jack’s beloved. But who is the damaged burden she carries, swathed in one of the floaty dresses Jill loved so much as a disciple of her vampiric Master?
Turns out, mad scientist Jack did succeed in resurrecting her sister, for which good deed Jill has punished her by swapping their bodies and trying to kill her all over again. Jill has been pushed further into derangement by the knowledge that the body she was born into is no longer fit to be turned vampiric: as it’s already been killed, the vampire’s curse will no longer be able to turn it immortal. Her solution has been to steal Jack’s body for herself, leaving obsessive-compulsive Jack to suffer in a form that Jack knows has been stained with the blood of far too many innocents to ever be scrubbed truly clean.
Jack’s mentor, Dr Bleak, held the path for Alexis to flee with Jack in Jill’s body through a doorway, before Jill in Jack’s body could do away with her hated sister for good. Now Alexis and Jack are seeking refuge at the school, needing a place to recuperate before heading back in to confront Jill, get Jack’s body back, and put a permanent end to Jill’s evil. Of course, they won’t turn away any potential allies, so despite Eleanor’s caution against the addictiveness of quests, Christopher, Cora, Kade and Sumi all set off into The Moors to help. The real question is whether they’ll all be able to eventually return to the school, whether they’ll even want to, and whether the experience won’t do more harm than good.
This is, ofc, a terrific premise that builds on so much of what we’ve read so far in the series. Cora’s struggle, especially, resonated. If you can’t find your true home, will a good-enough facsimile suffice? I also appreciated the ways in which OCD, transness and that sense of never quite belonging were all handled: Ms McGuire is excellent at such and knows how representation matters. She also does a much better job of keeping the plot coherent than I’ve done in my summary here!
Alas then that I felt that the story itself seemed rushed and, oddly, uninhabited. The denouements felt too matter-of-fact, without any build up to them. Come Tumbling Down felt less like a polished story (as my favorite book in the series, Down Among The Sticks And Bones did) than an idea quickly written down and made just good enough before the prolific author could move on to newer, more exciting things. And, you know, that’s her right, but it doesn’t make for the most interesting reading.
It was nice to get an ending for Jack’s story, tho, as well as to savor Rovina Cai’s gorgeous illustrations. I’m rather hoping we get to see Christopher get a starring role next in the series. I’m definitely down to read more, even if this is nowhere close to being my favorite nominee for this year’s Hugo for Best Novella.
Come Tumbling Down (Wayward Children #5) by Seanan McGuire was published January 7 2020 by Tordotcom and is available from all good booksellers, including