with Rovina Cai’s amazing illustrations.
One thing I love about the books in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series is how they’re all so readable. Even if I don’t like her protagonists or think characters are being daft or soapboxy, her pacing is usually so well done that I’m never bored with what’s happening, and keep turning the pages to see what comes next. Across The Green Grass Fields is no different.
In an overarching setting where doorways suddenly open to allow troubled children to escape from our mundane world to a different reality, this installment of the series finds an 11 year-old girl named Regan walking through a portal to a realm where all the hoofed creatures of mythology are real. In the Hooflands, our heroine falls in with a family of centaurs who intend to present her to the Queen, eventually. You see, whenever a human appears in their kingdom, it’s the harbinger of turmoil. Whether that turns out to be for good or evil is another question entirely. Some humans make their way directly to the royal castle. Regan chooses to stay with her foster family and hang out for a while, which turns into years, until a trip to the Fair puts their entire group in danger.
Fleeing to the Northlands, Regan and her family make a new life for themselves, but Regan knows she’s living on borrowed time. When traders venture far enough north that rumors of the human living there begin spreading, she gathers up her courage in her hands and sets off to the castle to confront her “destiny.” Only nothing is as it seems, as she quickly discovers even before reaching her destination and uncovering its awful secret.
I’m always a fan of good parenting representation, as this book mostly has. Regan’s real world parents love her and care about her, and while it’s pretty shitty that they don’t ask her to reevaluate her friendship with her clearly toxic best friend Laurel, it’s nice that this book finally acknowledged how devastating a child’s disappearance can be for their family. In previous books, I had a much more “eh, parents were inconvenienced” vibe, which may be true for some families but feels oddly dismissive of parents on the whole.
Which leads in, albeit tangentially, to my criticisms of this novella. Regan is such a shit before she finds out the life-changing truth about herself. I get it, performative girlhood is a thing, and parents can indeed be clueless as to how terrible their children’s friends are, but it was really weird that after Heather’s mom went to all that fuss, Regan’s parents didn’t sit down and have a heart to heart with their daughter about friendship. And while I understand the “leashed dog” analogy Ms McGuire uses to describe Regan’s relationship with Laurel, it truly boggles the mind that Regan could be such a dope about confiding in her.
But, y’know, once Regan goes through the doorway, she also seems to grow a brain. I loved how politeness and friendship were the most potent tools in her arsenal as she learned how to survive the Hooflands, and how listening and empathy served her so well. It’s a little irritating that she had to go to an actual fantasy realm to learn all that (I mean, honestly, the main impediment to her growth in the real world seemed to be Laurel, given that she had very few to no personality adjustments otherwise) but at least she improved as a person! I also enjoyed the big plot twist, even if it doesn’t withstand too much scrutiny as to the mechanics of the deception.
Unfortunately, I really hated the actual ending. I suppose it was foreshadowed — after all, the history clearly shows that all the humans who show up to herald change promptly disappear once their job is done — but I really hate the trope of “here I’ve fixed it for you, byeeeeeee” especially when what you’ve done is less a fix than open heart surgery, good God! I mean, surgeons don’t just peace out once they put a new heart in you! Even if they’re not directly responsible for a patient’s on-going or even short-term care, they leave instructions in place so that all their effort doesn’t immediately go to waste when the patient gets sepsis and dies. I wouldn’t have minded so much if Regan had felt any sense of responsibility about leaving: instead it was all “oh woe is me!” and not a thought to the absolute shambles she left behind, which cheapens all the character growth she went through to get here. And we don’t even get a real homecoming scene: Regan walks back to her house and sees that there’s a new car and a familiar cat aaaaand scene.
I get that this is a novella and there’s only so much you can do with 200-odd pages — and at least all the adventure is on the page, as opposed to the absolutely dire Book 4: In An Absent Dream — but it still felt oddly unsatisfactory given how solid the Hooflands scenes were. That said, this was definitely in the top tier of the Wayward Children series for me, right behind Book Two: Down Among The Sticks And Bones. While the latter was a more satisfying read overall, they both share terrific plot twists and overall absorbing storytelling (even tho the thing about baby unicorn horns makes no biological sense at all.)
I think Doug liked this better than I did.
Across The Green Grass Fields (Wayward Children #6) by Seanan McGuire was published January 12 2021 by tordotcom and is available from all good booksellers, including