A Beginner’s Guide to the Wayward Children Series - The Fantasy Review

A Beginner’s Guide to the Wayward Children Series

Nathan‘s Beginner’s Guide to the Wayward Children Series

For many of us our first foray into the fantasy genre were portal fantasies. Whether it was following Alice down the rabbit hole or the Pevensie children through the wardrobe, children’s and middle grade fiction is full of young people being transported to new worlds. But what happens when these children inevitably come back to “our” world? What happens when they grow up and are forced to leave the magic behind? What happens to the children who desperately want to go back because they finally found belonging and family in these worlds? 

Beginner’s Guide to the Wayward Children Series

This is the central premise of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series of novellas. McGuire introduces us to various children who find their “doors” that transport them to other worlds. These are children who feel forgotten, abandoned, or like they just don’t fit in, but now have found their “place”. But when their doors reappear, bringing them back to Earth, they don’t quite know how to reintegrate back into society. Luckily there is a support system for these returned children, Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. 

Fans of portal fantasies and secondary worlds will fall in love with this series, as each novella introduces us to a new world. Some are dark and scary, some are funny and ludicrous, and some resemble ours with just a bit of a bend. MORE HERE

Seanan McGuire uniquely structures the Wayward Children series. All of the “odd-numbered” books (starting with the first novella, Every Heart a Doorway) are set in the Home of Wayward Children and push forward the main series narrative. The “even-numbered” books are standalone entries that give more backstory to characters that we have already met or will intersect into the main storyline in future volumes. 

So, where should you begin with the Wayward Children series? 

The most obvious place to begin is with the first published volume, Every Heart a Doorway. In this novella we meet our main character, Nancy, who has returned from the World of the Dead. As she struggles to return to this magical world, her parents send her to the Home of Wayward Children, but murder and mystery await. This is the perfect place to start the series because this novella best lays out the “rules” for McGuire’s universe; it introduces us to Eleanor West, the doors, and all of the orientations of the different worlds. It is also just a very good novella, and probably the best of the “plot forward”, odd-numbered novellas. 

However, if you find that you bounce off Every Heart a Doorway or want an entry that isn’t set almost exclusively in our world, you can also easily pick up any of the “odd-numbered” standalones to get a taste of McGuire’s writing and style. These only have minor spoilers (at best) for the rest of novellas, so it doesn’t really matter if you would like to start somewhere that most matches your reading tastes. Each of the “even-numbered” standalones also tells a complete story, so you aren’t committing to a full story and you can just read the ones that interest you. So if you are just into gothic fiction, or love horse girls, you can just pick up those novellas. 

Here are some of my favorites of the standalones and a brief description of what to expect. Whether just one (or more!) sounds good to you, or whether you kind of gave up on the ongoing storyline, I recommend at least checking out these three:

Down Among the Sticks and Bones was the second published novella and tells the story of two sisters that get transported to a gothic monster world (think Dracula and Frankenstein). This is probably my second favorite entry of the series. This novella explores the choices we have as children to define our own destinies and identities vs. the ones thrust upon as by our parents and guardians. 

In and Absent Dream is the fourth novella and follows a young girl named Lundy who enters the Goblin Market, a world dictated by strict (and often hard to interpret) rules. Everything at the Market has a cost, and Lundy must decide whether she is willing to pay. This one is fascinating because it explores the dark, sinister nature of fairy tales, while also telling the story of a young girl from a good home whose loving parents just don’t know how to make space for Lundy’s unique needs. 

Finally, I recommend checking out the eighth novella, Lost in the Moment and Found, which I wrote a full review for here. This is simultaneously maybe the most beautiful but also most gut-wrenching novella in the series. Antsy, a young girl from an unhappy home, runs away and finds her way to a magical thrift shop. Through the story, McGuire explores themes related to abandonment, grooming, gaslighting, and generational family trauma. 

A Beginner’s Guide to the Wayward Children Series

Here is a list of the novellas in publication order for readers who want to read the series in order:

  1. Every Heart a Doorway (2016)
  2. Down Among the Sticks and Bones (2017)
  3. Beneath the Sugar Sky (2018)
  4. In an Absent Dream (2019)
  5. Come Tumbling Down (2020)
  6. Across the Green Grass Fields (2021)
  7. Where the Drowned Girls Go (2022)
  8. Lost in the Moment and Found (2023)

And if you would like my personal rankings from best to worst:

  1. In an Absent Dream (2019)
  2. Down Among the Sticks and Bones (2017)
  3. Lost in the Moment and Found (2023)
  4. Every Heart a Doorway (2016)
  5. Where the Drowned Girls Go (2022)
  6. Beneath the Sugar Sky (2018)
  7. Across the Green Grass Fields (2021)
  8. Come Tumbling Down (2020)

So, the tl;dr is that your best bet is to start with Every Heart a Doorway, but feel free to jump into any of the “even-numbered” standalones that suit your likes and fancies!

Related to this Beginner’s Guide to the Wayward Children Series

My name is Nathan and I'm currently getting my Ph.D. in archaeology in the US, but in my freetime I absolutely love reading any kind of fantasy book (and watching way too much TV). So I guess you could say that during the day I like to escape into the past and in the evening I like to escape into other worlds! Review requests can be sent to nathansfantasyreviews@gmail.com. You can also find me on twitter (@nathan_reviews) and TikTok (nathans_fantasy_reviews).

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