Monday, January 17, 2022

Microreview [Book]: Light Years From Home by Mike Chen

A novel that miraculously bridges people even when they feel light years away.

In these times of 2022, it almost feels like contentment was never something that was available. Any memories of such an opportunity feels stretched back to such a bygone era that when I think of it, it’s distant and scrambled. In Light Years From Home, a family is brought something that seemed unattainable for over a decade: the arrival of a long missing family member. The memories of getting to that point aren’t clear in some characters’ cases, but despite how scrambled it is, it’s miraculous. The story showcases the family coming together in a way that feels messy through difficult circumstances but absolutely clean in its heartfelt humanity. Memories can be scrambled, emotions can peak and sink from the unreliability of human actions, but what makes Light Years From Home such a powerful book is that the mundane yet miraculous instance of finding hope after an expanse of hopelessness is always in the cards, no matter how much time has passed to make it seem like an unattainable wisp.

15 years ago, Jakob was abducted by aliens. His two sisters have different approaches to dealing with the disappearance. Kass dismisses the prospect and assumes he wasn’t abducted but just left as the unreliable person he was. Evie thinks otherwise, devoting her time to studying extraterrestrial life, trying to solve the mystery of her missing brother. Meanwhile, the parents are left in mental shambles. There doesn’t seem to be any developments concerning it for a while until at the start of the novel, Jakob arrives on Earth with a special mission. That mission embroils his sisters in it through incisive developments. 

The characterization is where the story really shines. Whether it’s Evie’s ardent hope that what she’s dedicated her life to is a reality, Kassie’s fed-upness of her family, or the portrayal of Jakob who’s portrayed as making so much growth even though some of him is initially under a veil of mystery. It all works so well. Character arcs move at a pace that makes it so no one feels stuck in a rut. Just about everything feels like their choices align with their personality, making the plot move organically.

One thing to note is that as organic as the developments are, Light Years From Home definitely favors the exploration of familial bonds and human emotions over a rollicking plot. There are seeds for an explosive story here, but Mike Chen holds back, and it mostly worked for this reviewer. Although, there were some times when the vibrancy of the characters wasn’t enough to buoy some slower sections scattered throughout. Despite holding my engagement for the vast majority of the plot, I think it’s worth mentioning that this could very likely be lacking in speculative and action-packed elements to those in search of it.

Despite having a short supply of speculative elements, Light Years From Home is still imaginative through the way it’s able to carry its proceedings through an original voice and some brilliant plot points. It’s a novel full of love with a tenderness that might seem light years from our home. But the more I read about the familiar and cutting specificity of the characters, the more I realized that such a tenderness is still here–it just seems scrambled and distorted. Jakob goes on an interstellar journey, through many light years, surprising you with its direction but ultimately landing at a place that seems new until you realize it’s home.

The Math

Baseline Score: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 For its top-notch emotional intelligence.

Negatives: -1 For some slower and less imaginative chapters scattered sparingly.

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10

POSTED BY: Sean Dowie - Screenwriter, stand-up comedian, lover of all books that make him nod his head and say, "Neat!

Chen, Mike. Light Years From Home [MIRA, 2022].

Friday, January 14, 2022

Microreview [book]: Chaos Vector by Megan O'Keefe

A space opera universe of mysteries and intrigue in a backwater solar system.

Megan O Keefe’s Velocity Weapon introduced Sanda and Biran Greeve. While Biran Greeve launched himself, a little unwillingly into solar system politics, seeking to become a Keeper, one of the mysterious power group controlling the interstellar gates, Sanda was the militaristic one, a high flying sergeant on a gunship. Velocity Weapon tells a twisty story where Sanda is lied to and tricked by an AI on an enemy warship, and Biran desperately seeks political power for, primarily, finding out what has happened to his sister. The novel was particularly potent for a "Wham! moment" where Sanda’s understanding of what was happening to her, and why, turned out to be far far different than she knew.

Now, with a solar system seething with potential conflict, Sanda free of her captivity, and Biran in a position of power within the Keepers, Chaos Vector continues the story of these two siblings as revelations and conflicts from the first novel start to well as new mysteries, and yes, new wham moments!

I am being deliberately oblique to the nature of the wham moment in Velocity Weapon, but want to talk about it in a general sense as a concept, because it so colors the book. I was waiting, as I read Chaos Vector, to see if there was going to be a similar rug pull. In retrospect, there were hints leading up to that twist: the author plays fair with what she told the reader, what she “let slip” and so when things came to light, and how the pieces fell into place. 

This novel doesn’t have the single moment that Velocity Weapon has, showing that the author doesn’t want to or need to rely on one large “twist” or revelation in order to make her novels work. There are a number of smaller revelations that make the reader reconsider what has gone before, and rethink more than one character in the narrative. That is what I consider an effective wham moment. Unlike, say, the end of the Mark Wahlberg Planet of the Apes movie which ends in a non-sensical twist, compared to its predecessort at the end of the Charlton Heston Planet of the Apes movie. See the difference? Velocity Weapon’s "wham" is in the Heston mode, as are the smaller ones in Chaos Vector.

This novel is far more wide ranging than the first, which had a tight feel with Sanda on a warship as a quasi-prisoner, and Biran mostly planet-bound and seeking paths to power within the Keepers, the trans-solar system group who control the interstellar gates. This novel has Sanda ranging across the solar system on her quest to deal with the chip implanted in her head, and the mysterious location the information is contained on it. And of course, she is on the outs, if not a fugitive, over the escape of that AI starship from the first novel. Sanda gives us a grand tour of the Cronus system, and we get an even clearer and more nuanced look at a solar system divided between an authoritarian government (Prime) on the primary planet, and a number of settlements with varying levels of fealty - or who are outright trying to maintain their independence, like Icarion. Add to that the power of the interstellar Keepers who control the gates and wield power of their own, and O’Keefe provides a complicated and interesting solar system, with surprises and differences and interesting touches throughout.  

Biran, too, gets out of his relative bubble more in this novel. Now that he has a position of power in the Keepers, he has more responsibility, and more adversaries and opponents to his agenda and goals. That means gets to get out and about, although he does feel more cocooned and bound than Sanda is, a reversal of the first novel.  I did also particularly like the small but significant bits of interaction between the siblings. The author enables their interactions across interplanetary distances, a distinct difference from their being firewalled off from each other in the first novel, and the very different but equally ambitious siblings have an intense familial relationship.

The novel is a very contemporary space opera, too, in terms of its characters. Sanda uses a prosthetic leg. One of the new viewpoint characters is non-binary. There are a lot of female characters in positions of authority, and also in conflict with the main character. All of these characters, including the antagonists - in a way, especially the antagonists - are complicated, nuanced and have agendas, goals and drives that make sense and make for multidimensional characters. This is a very well peopled universe, and as fascinating as the solar system is, it's the people who inhabit it who really bring it to life. Whereas Velocity Weapon kept Sanda mostly talking to one character, this is a novel where O’Keefe opens the floodgates on characters. One of Sanda and Biran’s fathers, Graham, gets a lot of play in this novel, and we find out a lot about HIS deal. I kept imagining him in my mind as being played by someone like the actor Tom Wilkinson: someone aging, who has seen a lot, done some things for some very shady people when he was younger, who thought he was “out”, but gets back into his old life to help his children. 

Like the first novel, there is also a small additional point of view, a flash back to the founder of the Keepers, and the entire interstellar society, Alexandra Halston. We got to see a few back in time looks at her life in Velocity Weapon, and here we get more.  It is probably not a spoiler to say here that one of the multiple smaller moments in this novel that makes you reconsider everything occurs during one of her points of view. Even more than the first novel, this, as well as the other revelations, show that O’Keefe continually wants to make us question the base assumptions, revealing an even more complicated, and fraught, universe and setup than what the reader might have thought. This novel, then, even more than the first, is a matter of curtain pulling, and having the reader reassess events and especially characters in a new light. This novel, too, makes some of the details of events in the first novel come to be seen in a new light.

That is, if one can really call it such, the only weakness of the novel. This is a novel that really rewards having recently read or re-read Velocity Weapon. It makes for a tightly bound pair of novels (and I fully expect Catalyst Gate, the third novel, to follow this line) and so starting here in this novel, jumping in mid-series, really means missing a lot. This is a series to read closely, to get the full effect of the revelations and plot twists.  Nevertheless, this is a very successful followup to Velocity Weapon and continuing to solidify O’Keefe’s turn from fantasy into space opera. Readers who are interested in the space opera of today really should be checking out what O’Keefe is doing--but not to start here, but rather to launch into her verse with Velocity Weapon.

The Math

Baseline Score: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for crackerjack plotting and Wham! Moments that keep the reader engaged

+1 for a diverse and interestingly peopled and complex universe

Penalties: -1  Readers who have not read the first book, or not read it recently, may miss some of the power and careful structure of revelations and plot. 

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10


Reference: O'Keefe, Megan. Chaos Vector (Orbit, 2021)

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Microreview [Video Game]: It Takes Two by Hazelight Studios

A Co-op Delight; Honey We Shrunk Ourselves meets [Insert any RomCom Here]

The Game Awards Game of the Year winner, It Takes Two, asks two players to come together to repair an ailing marriage. In many relationships, poor communication causes the initial bond between partners to break down. Therein lies the crux of the conflict with It Takes Two. Cody and May, fed-up with their relationship, cause their daughter Rose much distress. Rose consults Dr. Hakim’s Book of Love to help bring them back together. With her tears, she binds her parent’s souls into two wooden dolls. Now it’s up to the players to help the protagonists get out of this mess and back to their bodies.

It Takes Two is a mandatory co-op game. Hazelight Studios created a free downloadable pass so that a player who hasn’t purchased the game could still play with a friend who purchased a copy, a genius move. Through clever yet simple quest and level design, Josef Fares’ vision of returning to the couch co-op days of old has paid off. My girlfriend, who was my partner throughout this adventure, hasn’t played many modern games, and she took on the controls with relative ease. Except for a few glitches, there was nothing we couldn’t solve with some solid communication.

Though the aesthetic of each level feels like they were created for the sake of variety, they present varied gameplay that keeps the game from stagnating. The levels flow sequentially in a comprehensive manner and are beautifully detailed. In one level we found ourselves in a toolshed, retrieving parts for a damaged hammer, and in another, we’re off in space fighting Moon Baboon. Most of the gameplay segments last just long enough that they don’t overstay their welcome. It Takes Two covers all kinds of genres over its runtime; platformer, hack and slash, third-person shooter, and even a rhythm segment are included.

In addition to a consistent flow of different video game genres, Hazelight Studios did a wonderful job in ensuring that the gameplay maintained asynchronous tasks for each character. This guarantees two things. The first is that each player has to consider the abilities of not only their character, but of their partner's as well when attempting to solve a puzzle or overcome an enemy, and the second is that it keeps a second run feel fresh in a game with otherwise low replay value (which in this humble reviewer’s mind doesn’t carry much weight, but is nice to have regardless).

Both characters have the same basic controls; jumping, walking, and running are identical for Cody and May. I don’t know who decided to give Cody such a ridiculous running animation, but I thank them for it. Where the characters’ controls differ is in level-specific gear. For instance, one of the earlier segments sees Cody receive some nails that can be thrown and retrieved (think the Leviathan Axe in God of War) while May gets a hammerhead. Cody can throw the nails into specific surfaces that May can then use as platforms to swing from with her hammerhead. Most co-op segments hit the mark well and make both players feel accomplished when a puzzle has been solved.

May and Cody’s animations serve the characters well in representing their out-of-body avatars. When in human form, however, not so much. The uncanny valley effect is especially present in their daughter, Rose, who, for some reason, seems like a weird robotic child. It felt as though the developers had never been around a human child, making me feel less sympathy for Rose’s plight. Cody, May, and Dr. Hakim provide great foils for each character and their banter plays well, but Rose seems like a dead fish that sometimes kills the mood when she becomes the focus of a scene.

Many times throughout the game, Dr. Hakim reiterates that cooperation is the key to getting Cody and May back to their bodies. The gameplay heavily represents this mantra and stands as one of the two pillars for the narrative, the other, as relayed through the cutscenes and dialogue, is about reigniting their romantic spark. As May and Cody repeatedly fumble their chance at freedom, the narrative’s pace moves along steadily, even if the end comes sooner than I expected.

For those players that enjoy a little competition in their co-op games, It Takes Two has that covered as well. Many two-player mini-games sprinkled throughout each level see May and Cody play against each other for a fun little distraction from the main campaign, from chess to shooting galleries, the variety keeps the side content engaging.

It Takes Two has serviceable mechanics that usually do what you want them to. The platforming works well, though it’s no Mario. Once in a while, we would encounter a glitch with the mechanics; a missed rope swing, or a missed grind connection that caused a death. One time my girlfriend got caught under the floor during a boss sequence and I had to finish it off by myself. It was so distracting that I can’t quite remember who or what the boss was, just that I was looking at both screens trying to figure out a way to get her back into the fight. These weren’t game-breaking by any means, as It Takes Two respawns players quickly (even quicker if you can tap the Triangle/Y button quickly) after a death, user error, or not.

Small animation issues and infrequent bugs aside, most of It Takes Two delivers an enjoyable experience for both players involved. I haven’t enjoyed a co-op adventure this much since Portal 2. Though the ending seems inevitable, the journey is more than worth the time invested. From fighting corrupt flowers in lush gardens to combatting talking war-hardened squirrels, the simple premise of making love work through fun and cooperation is embodied in every facet of It Takes Two. The game delivers memorable cooperative fun, so grab a friend or partner, a controller, and one copy of the game. You’re in for a good time.

The Math

Objective Assessment: 9/10

Bonus: +1 for creating clever puzzles and conflicts that consistently keep the game fresh, +1 for free pass to play with a friend.

Penalties: -1 for technical issues, -1 for incredibly predicatble story, -1 for sometimes faulty mechanics.

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10

Posted by: Joe DelFranco - Fiction writer and lover of most things video games. On most days you can find him writing at his favorite spot in the little state of Rhode Island.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Microreview [book]: Dark Rise by C.S. Pacat

Dark Rise brings some shades of grey to a classic tale of Light vs Dark.

Cover art by Magdalena Pagowska, @lenyan_art

In 1821 London, a teenage boy called Will is on the run from the nobleman who killed his mother. When he is finally captured, he discovers a magical dimension to the world he never knew: a world which, as the last of his bloodline, he may be destined to save from the return of the Dark King.

If this sounds familiar to you, it's not surprising; Dark Rise is a book that proudly shows its influences. The title itself harks back to The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, and the story plays with many of the same elements. However, while Pacat very clearly intends Dark Rise as a homage, this is also not an uncomplicated tale of Light vs Dark. Some clever changes have been made to introduce some shades of grey and also to appeal to a more modern audience.

Starting with the protagonist Will. At first glance, he seems very similar to Cooper's version: of humble background, he's the sole descendant of the forces of Light that at great cost (mostly) defeated the Dark in an age long passed. Ignorant of his heritage, he meets with the last remnant of those forces of Light who reveal to him the true magic of the world.

But that is largely where the similarities end. In keeping with a darker, more mature tone, he has been aged up from eleven to seventeen. Instead of the cliched farm boy, Will has had to fend for himself on the streets of London after the death of his mother and has wound up as a dockworker. And while he experiences some intuitive flashes of knowledge, for much of the novel he struggles to access his power, let alone master it. Nevertheless, he continues to present much as one expects of a scion of light: a hard worker with a strong sense of justice and a deep loyalty to his friends.

Which brings us to the second of the main characters. Violet is the bastard daughter of an Englishman, who returned home to his family from India with her in tow. While she and her father's wife barely tolerate each other, Violet looks up to her half-brother. However, Violet remains somewhat naive and at first she doesn't fully understand the character of the nobleman her brother serves. She soon finds out when the ship they're on board is attacked at the docks. At her brother's behest, Violet goes into the hold to defend the ship's cargo, only to discover that cargo is Will.

If you're looking for a kickass female character, Violet's your girl. Not only is she unusually fast and strong, but she is a stalwart friend and stands up for what is right, even when it costs her dearly. The friendship between her and Will was one of the story's strong points for me, particularly since it remained platonic (although both of them have romantic interests of varying degrees elsewhere).

The influences Dark Rise draws upon have by-and-large been predominantly white and heteronormative, things in which Pacat's work has never particularly been interested. Dark Rise is no exception on that front, leading with a diverse cast; Will is bisexual and Violet is far from the only character of colour.

Speaking of white, heteronormative influences, fans will also note some strong Lord of the Rings overtones in some of the set pieces. There is even an equivalent to the One Ring, complete with its Gollum-like keeper.

Perhaps the problem with being a homage to such iconic works of fantasy is that it leaves things feeling a bit generic. Although it's nominally a historic fantasy, any sense of it being set in a distinct time period fades very quickly after the opening.

Pacat's debut novel, Captive Prince, was relatively ground-breaking when it was first released (Australian mainstream publishers putting out previously self-published serial works is still relatively uncommon; explicit m/m romance combined with magic-free fantasy is just about unheard of). But despite the fervour of Pacat's fans, Dark Rise does not hit the same bar for significance. It's a work more in line with Pacat's more recent project. The graphic novel series Fence squeezes in as many sports anime tropes as it can, weaving them into an entertaining, familiar story. Like Fence, Dark Rise is an exploration of core genre tropes.

Even the twist, when it comes, ends up feeling relatively predictable to readers familiar with modern, darker works of YA speculative fiction. Being most familiar with the Australian YA (and YA-adjacent) scene, I found myself particularly thinking of  the work of Jay Kristoff (who, I note, was thanked in the acknowledgements). It remains to be seen whether Dark Rise's twist is merely for the sake of edginess, as it so often feels in Kristoff's work. However, given the careful thought Pacat put into subverting other tropes along the way, I'm optimistic that this is building towards something meaningful.

Its predictability doesn't make for an unengaging read, however. The characters are sympathetic and the plot, while perhaps a touch slow in the middle, feels suitably epic. The twist was carefully foreshadowed and is the sort of thing that will reward rereading. While I can see some flaws, I enjoyed the book immensely.

The Math

Baseline score: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for the nods to classic fantasy, +1 for the carefully foreshadowed twist.

Penalties:  -1 for its generic predictability.

Nerd coefficient:  8/10

References: Pacat, C.S. Dark Rise (Allen & Unwin, 2021)

Cooper, Susan. The Dark is Rising (Macmillan, 1973)

Pacat, C.S. Captive Prince (Penguin Random House, 2015)

Pacat, C.S. & the Mad, Joanna. Fence, Vol. 1 (Boom! Box, 2018)

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring (Allen and Unwin, 1954)

POSTED BY: Elizabeth Fitzgerald, a writer, binge reader, tabletop gamer & tea addict. @elizabeth_fitz

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Nerds of a Feather 2022 Awards Eligibility

It feels weird to call 2021 a "successful" year by any metric, but through all the ups and downs of pandemic year two, we're really proud of the work that Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together has put out in the world, from a team of dedicated, thoughtful contributors.

While we're recusing from the Hugo Award's Best Fanzine category this year, all of our flock are individually eligible for Best Fan Writer for their work here, and some of us also write elsewhere. If you're filling out your ballot, we hope you'll take some time to check out what our writers have done, and we particularly want to highlight 2021 output from Arturo Serrano and Sean Dowie as worthy of your consideration. Our two time Best Fan Writer nominee Paul Weimer has also had another excellent year, and we wish him the best of luck for a nomination hat trick!
- Adri, Joe, The G and Vance

Best Related Work
As always, all of our columns and features are eligible for Best Related Work around their 2021 output. We don't normally highlight individual posts beyond our annual projects, but this year there's one piece that we think deserves particular attention:

I'm Colombian. Here's what Encanto Means to Me, by Arturo Serrano

Arturo  review of Disney's Encanto provides a detailed, thorough and nuanced take, from the perspective of a Colombian viewer. We love that Best Related Work is a category that can celebrate genre critique and fan engagement at all lengths and mediums, and this review is one of the best things we've had the honour to publish.

(We also want to shout out Arturo's in-depth deconstruction of WandaVision, which is also an outstanding individual piece of fan writing.)

Best Fan Writer: Here are some of the highlights from our active authors in 2021

Adri Joy (editor)

(Adri also published two reviews at Strange Horizons in 2021: Jade War and The Unbroken)

Andrea Johnson

Dean E.S. Richard
The Godzilla vs Kong Roundtable: A Monsterously Good Time (With G, Joe, Vance)
Two Ships in the Night

Elisabeth Moore
Short Fiction Round Up: June 2021
Summer Reading List

Elizabeth Fitzgerald
Full eligibility post here

Joe DelFranco

Michael Newhouse-Bailey
Check out all of the Thursday Morning Superhero column, especially:

The G (editor)

Monday, January 10, 2022

This is Not a Review of The Book of Boba Fett


Unlike the other properties which I have written non-reviews of, I actually watched this one. That's just the journalistic integrity you get at an Award Winning Fanzine(tm). I also am eschewing my usual weekly post about shows I love, because, well.... The Book of Boba Fett isn't very good. There, I said it. That's your review.

But this isn't a review, because, for very different reasons than Joker, it doesn't need one. This show, I think, was made for me, because if you take a bad-ass killing machine and put it in some sweet armor, you are like 75% of the way there already. It's not good, but am I going to watch every episode on release day? Absolutely. So I am also unqualified to review it.

The problem with TBoBF (aside from that title, dear lord, careful not to cut yourself on your edge, Star Wars), is that it attempts to cruise on Boba Fett's cool factor.

I actually touched on this early on in my Mondays on Mandalore series, but it bears repeating here: Does Boba Fett work without the mask? Just like the Joker, part of that cool factor comes from mystery, and that is exceptionally true of villains and morally grey characters. Boba Fett became the legend that he is (in real life), because he was mysterious and you could imagine any amount of fantastical back story for him. Then we got his back story, and it was dumb.

***Tangent alert***

There has been a lot of chatter lately about how George Lucas would have done the sequels better, which, ok yeah, they weren't great (more on that in a second), but seriously y'all? Did you watch the prequels? Is that what you want? Trade federations and board meetings? Stop it. 

***End of tangent alert***

I guess that's where I sit with TBoBF - it's watchable, I guess. I actually enjoyed the sequels while I was watching them - there are some great scenes and good characters, it's just edited about as well as Suicide Squad. Two episodes in, and I am hoping for more - although I am pretty sure everything right now is just getting us caught up with where Boba is at, and there will be some big twist shortly.

To me, it's a question of intent vs execution - and what it's standing up against. We have had a run of really great Star Wars shows - the conclusion of the Clone Wars, the Bad Batch, and obviously, The Mandolorian. All of those had deep themes and strong emotional cores. Again, maybe it's coming, and this is all preamble, but so far we have a crime lord who hasn't committed any crimes, and is in the middle of Dances with Tusken Raiders. 

It's not unwatchable, but it took off his helmet, put him in pajamas, and tried to sell us on it being the same Boba Fett. Hopefully they get back to him being cool, and fast.

Sorry for all the Futurama gifs

Dean is the author of the 
3024AD series of science fiction stories. When not holed up in his office tweeting obnoxiously writing, he can be found watching or playing sports, or in his natural habitat of a bookstore. 

Microreview [book]: Where the Drowned Girls Go, by Seanan McGuire

The latest entry in a series that has ripped and stabbed and warmed my heart all in equal measure.

When I wrote about Every Heart a Doorway six years ago, I wrote about how reading that story is like coming home and that it was very much a novel of my heart. With very limited exceptions, I have loved the five subsequent novellas with most of my heart though nothing has quite captured to the level of that first discovery of the doorways and what they mean. Seanan McGuire’s treatment of portal fantasy and child heroes and requests to “Be Sure” have ripped and stabbed and warmed my heart all in equal measures.

These are stories of children finding their way to doors to magical worlds where they could be heroes and where they might fit in better than they do in their “real” lives and their “real” families. Those magical worlds are seldom actually kind, but the children find spaces where they can be heroes. Not all the children actually come home, but the ones that do find it difficult to adjust and their families seldom understand at all. That’s where schools like Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children come in because Eleanor West knows the doors are real and knows these kids need an opportunity to be truly understood and hope that their doors might still open for them again.

Eleanor West’s is not the only such school, and that’s where Where the Drowned Girls Go comes in. We first met Cora in Beneath the Sugar Sky after she returned to the real world from “The Trenches”, a world where she had been a mermaid and a hero, “bright and brave and beloved”. Beneath the Sugar Sky was an adventure story hopping across multiple worlds and Cora’s story continued as part of a larger story in Come Tumbling Down. Where the Drowned Girls Go deals with the consequences of Cora being a hero.

When Cora helped set the stories of Jack and Jill right in Come Tumbling Down, she met the drowned gods in The Moors and those gods met Cora and they want her back even though she was never theirs to begin with. Even after returning to Eleanor West’s, Cora can still hear their call and she really, really needs to not. Where the Drowned Girls Go is a story of trauma recovery and friendship and more.

Most of it takes place at the Whitethorn Institution, a sister school to Eleanor West’s, a school where they “help” the children forget. It is, in many ways, a mirror to Eleanor West’s and it is very much not a welcoming school but Cora thinks that a change is what she needs to help silence those gods in her head. But Cora is still a hero and things are perhaps not right at the Whitethorn Institution.

Where the Drowned Girls is a remarkable novella. It simultaneously continues specific storylines begun in several of the previous books (including, surprisingly, Across the Green Grass Fields), tells a very specific story for Cora, introduces a whole new school, and quite possibly (and likely) sets up future paths for the Wayward Children to go in future novellas. If I’ve learned nothing else from reading and re-reading Seanan McGuire it is that she doesn’t capriciously introduce things into her stories and something as big and significant as The Whitethorn Institution is absolutely going to come into play again in significant ways. Trust me on that.

I would need to go back and read all of the Wayward Children novellas to be sure (something I might do anyway), but Where the Drowned Girls Go may well be one of my favorite stories of the series, second only to Every Heart a Doorway, though that could be a bit of recency bias. It’s not that any of the Wayward Children novellas are especially soft or kind to their characters, but Where the Drowned Girls Go is even less so. The Whitethorn Institution is especially harsh, even before you look underneath the surface. But, even so - this story of consequence and discovery is exceptional. It is the perfect encapsulation of the series thus far and sets up the future quite deftly.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for McGuire's wit and wisdom

Penalties: No

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10, "very high quality/standout in its category" See more about our scoring system here.

Reference: McGuire, Seanan. Where the Drowned Girls Go [ Publishing, 2021]

Other Reviews
Every Heart a Doorway
Down Among the Sticks and Bones
Beneath the Sugar Sky
In An Absent Dream
Come Tumbling Down
Across the Green Grass Fields

Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He / Him