April 15, 2020

Seanan McGuire: "Beneath the Sugar Sky"

Title: Beneath the Sugar Sky [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Wayward Children (3rd of ?? books)
Author: Seanan McGuire [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural (technically it would be Portal Fantasy, but since I don't have a Fantasy Room on the blog, I decided to shelf this one as Supernatural - that's the closest I could get)
Year: 2018
Age: 14+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: An imaginative look-in-reverse at one of the most common fantasy tropes. Puts a plus-size character front and center and reverses the stereotypes about her kind. Successfully blends Nonsense with Logic.
Cons: You need to suspend disbelief a lot...but what's new? 😉
WARNING! A naked girl comments on female genitals.
Will appeal to: Everyone who's ever felt out of place, but doesn't necessary dream of a happier world than the one they live in...

Blurb: When Rini lands with a literal splash in the pond behind Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, the last thing she expects to find is that her mother, Sumi, died years before Rini was even conceived. If she can't find a way to restore her mother, Rini will have more than a world to save: she will never have been born in the first place. And in a world without magic, she doesn’t have long before Reality notices her existence and washes her away. Good thing the student body is well-acquainted with quests... (Amazon excerpt)

Review: Don't let this colourful, literally sweet world fool you. Even the land of baked goods can be dangerous and unforgiving.


BTSS is, hands down, the most unique world in the Wayward Children series so far. McGuire puts a spin on the Candyland trope, not only making it potentially deadly (after all, bad people can find their way to Confection  - that's how Sumi's and Rini's world is called - as well as good ones), but most of all, concocting the imaginative story of how it came to be...or, to be precise, of how it was made. For such a short book, there's a lot of world-building in here, and an amazing amount of (sugar-fuelled, but not sugar-coated) details. Also, McGuire tears the Candyland-is-for-sweet-tooth-people cliche to pieces. No one seems to find their door to Confection because they crave cookies or pancakes more than the average person (also, it's not like the landscape is for eating), while it's arguably its peculiar blend of Nonsense and a little Logic that calls to certain people - and if you remember Sumi from Book 1, you can easily see that. On the other hand, lots of visitors through the years have been drawn to this world because they felt the urge to bake - and you could say that Confection, once a small rock, was actually baked into existence. How's that for (literal) world-building? 😉 [...]


One would expect BTSS to be from Rini's POV, but with an apparently bold move, McGuire puts new girl Cora front and center in this installment - which ultimately makes sense, since it not only serves the purpose to reverse the above Candyland-calls-gluttons stereotype, but also introduces us to this yummy and colourful world from a more neutral perspective that Rini's (who was born there), or even Christopher's and Kade's for that matter (since they come from worlds at the other end of the spectrum, especially Christopher). Cora turned up to be my favourite Wayward Children character so far, and here we have nothing in common. She's fat AND an athlete - a swimmer, to be precise - and that's awesome. She's got a grace of her own, and yet she's also got more endurance than her fellow travelers, thanks to her training - or to the fact that she's a mermaid at heart (as the water world she came back from testifies). She's not fat because she likes to eat and/or she's lazy - which is an assumption we so often are fond of making - but due to a genetic disorder. And she's both loyal and brave, whatever the world she happens to find herself in. The only qualm I have about her character is that, in trying to reverse the stereotypes about fat people, McGuire seems to pit Cora and her fat gene against bulimic/anorexic girls. As Acqua's review points out, eating disorders aren't flaws. 


I'll leave you with a list of less significant things that made me happy while reading this novella, and of even smaller things that bothered me, though they didn't go as far as to affect my reading pleasure:

  • McGuire addresses an issue I had with the first installment: why don't the parents of the kids who are enrolled in school press charges when their offspring go missing again (that is, find their door again, probably for good)? And she provides an answer that - if apparently a bit far-out - fits with the world she has created.
  • Before the gang heads to Confection, they get to visit an old friend in the world she found her way back to, and it's oddly heartwarming...plus, even in a handful of pages, the world-building is (again) top-notch.
  • As usual, there are diverse characters featured, including a disabled girl and another who wears a hijab, so one would expect her to be a Muslim...
  • ...except she doesn't wear a hijab out of religious motivations - though she doesn't dismiss the chance for it to happen later. She sounds a bit casual about her reasons for wearing a hijab, and I'm not sure if, in reality, such a thing would ever happen.
  • Except for the first chapter and a half, the whole story is told from Cora's POV...but on p.133, there's the odd paragraph from Rini's POV.
  • One of Rini's hands disappears early in the story, but later, we get multiple instances of her doing things with both her hands.
  • It sounds like all the Bakers who built Confection were women (or at least, no man is mentioned), which doesn't sit well with me - it almost sounds like the author is compartmentalising jobs (which I don't think she's doing consciously, but still, it bothered me a little).

All in all, this is a series unlike any other, that packs so much in a few pages (its installments clock at 200 max) and touches on so many different worlds and characters. Once you get used to its quirkiness, you find yourself sucked in, even by its most unforgiving worlds - and if you haven't found your particular door (that is, preferred world) yet, it's just a matter of time 😉.

For quotes from this book click here.
For my "Skeleton Song" review (prequel short story) click here.
For my "Every Heart a Doorway" review
(first installment in the series) click here.
For my "Down Among the Sticks and Bones" review (second installment in the series) click here.
For my "In Mercy, Rain" review (companion short story, following "Down Among the Sticks and Bones") click here.

For my "In an Absent Dream" review (fourth installment in the series) click here.
For my "Juice Like Wounds" review (companion short story, outtake from "In an Absent Dream") click here.
For my "Come Tumbling Down" review (fifth installment in the series) click here.
For my "Across the Green Grass Fields" review 
(sixth installment in the series) click here.

For my "Where the Drowned Girls Go" review (seventh installment in the series) click here.
For my "Lost in the Moment and Found" review (eighth installment in the series) click here.
For my "Mislaid in Parts Half Known" review (ninth installment in the series) click here.
For more Supernatural books click here.


  1. I always felt as though I was being punished, when made to play Candyland, so this fits with my personal understanding. I am the queen of terse, and therefore, appreciate a fantasy author, who can build a complete and vivid world in under 200 pages.

    1. "I always felt as though I was being punished, when made to play Candyland".

      Of course it helps that this book is part of a series, but it's impressive how McGuire manages to create a different reality in each novella and it feels complete.

  2. You had me at Candyland! I loved playing it as a kid, and it's something I play with the monsters ALL THE TIME. Although, it lost some of it's appeal several weeks ago. This does sound like a really interesting series, though. :)

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? 😷💬

  3. Love the sound of these! I haven't tried these yet but I love the idea of the doors. And it just sounds so different from everything else out there...

    And in this day and age a satisfying fantasy story clocking in around 200 pages seems like a dream!

    1. Yep, Wayward Children is different from all the series that are out there at the moment, and that includes the length of its single installments. Not to mention, most of these stories wrap up at the end of the book, though there's still space for their threads to be picked later.

  4. This sounds like a really interesting concept for a fantasy/supernatural novel! When I think of candy, the one book that immediately comes to mind is the Candymakers by Wendy Mass. It's an MG novel, but it stood out to me just because I loved the setting and the premise. I'm glad that you enjoyed Wayward Children! :)

    claire @ clairefy

    1. I looked up The Candymakers, and it does sound really unique, though its concept is totally different from this one. BTSS is not about baking candies, but baking an entire world into existence!

  5. Though the only book I’ve read in this series is Every Heart a Doorway, I loved reading this review. I love the way you broke up your thoughts on it with the themed headings, especially the small crumbs part.
    I like that you’ve also addressed both the positives and negatives of the book - especially when it comes to your thoughts on the POV character.
    Awesome review :)
    - Sabrina @ Wordy and Whimsical

    1. Aww, thank you! Of course, while writing a review, I always hope to be able to steer someone toward the books I love in the first place, but I can settle for having my review praised and my writing effort accomplished 😅 😘.

  6. Okay, but each review you write about Seanan McGuire's novels pushes me closer to finally picking up something by the author. Each of these books sounds incredible, especially because I love unique worlds. Great review, Roberta! :)

    1. She's got so many series (and a handful of standalones) out, in so many different styles (though they all gravitate toward urban fantasy) that you most certainly will find one that suits you!! I mean, even if they don't end up wowing you, I'm sure you won't regret the experience 🙂.

  7. I have heard such good things about this series and I just need to try it for sure. I am glad you could enjoy this edition in the series and that it could be a new favourite for you. It sounds like the representation in this is brilliant too ^.^

    1. It's a series like no other, that's for sure! Even for novellas, these are books with a lot of world-building, too. I'll have to encourage you to try it 😉.


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