July 09, 2020

Seanan McGuire: "In an Absent Dream"

Title: In an Absent Dream [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series:  Wayward Children (4th 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: 2019
Age: 14+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: An imaginative look-in-reverse at one of the most common fantasy tropes. Fresh twist on one of the series' premises. Compelling protagonist.
Cons: More philosophical (and thus slightly less accessible) than the other books in the series.
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: This fourth entry and prequel tells the story of Lundy, a very serious young girl who would rather study and dream than become a respectable housewife and live up to the expectations of the world around her. When she finds a doorway to a world founded on logic and reason, she thinks she's found her paradise. Alas, everything costs at the goblin market, and when her time there is drawing to a close, she makes the kind of bargain that never plays out well. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: The most original book in the series so far tells us the origin story of Lundy, Eleanor West's second-in-command (so to speak) at her Home for Wayward Children. Alas, we already know what comes after - but it doesn't mean that we're exempted from heartbreak.


If you're familiar with this series - or have at least read Book 1 - you will know that most of the doors the Wayward Children stumble upon can only be crossed once, because if you break the rules of the realms they led you to, you have to go back to the regular world and aren't allowed to return. Under special circumstances, some of the visitors do get a second chance. But this is the first time we're introduced to a door that will let you come and go until you're eighteen, at which point you'll have to make up your mind or the door will choose for you. Also, this is the first time we follow one of the Wayward Children for a long span of time - from 8 to 18 years old - and in and out of two worlds. This allows McGuire to flesh up her main character a bit more (despite the novella format's limitations) and to give us a multifaceted perspective of her that the previous ones lacked. It also makes for a compelling narrative, that - despite us already knowing the outcome, since we met Lundy in the first installment - keeps us on our toes the whole time. It's a fresh spin on the series' own mythology that breaths new life into an already fascinating concept and prevents it from becoming formulaic. [...]


In an Absent Dream is, in a way, the most philosophical installment in the series so far, though it doesn't sound far-fetched that serious, bookish Lundy can be able to grasp this particular world's inner workings at 8 year old. The Goblin Market is based on the concept of "fair value", but that's not to say that it's an easy world to live in - as none of the realms the doors lead to are. Sacrifice is always involved, and you have to take responsibility for all your actions. There are rules, some even harsher than others we've seen enforced in the worlds we previously visited. If you don't return fair value, you're bound to lose your humanity - literally - one piece at a time, though you can always regain it. It's brutal, and still I can see it appeal to a girl like Lundy...or literally any girl who has to put up with far more unnatural expectations at home. Lundy is, as a matter of fact, eager to follow any rule dictated by reason, which doesn't include abiding by a superimposed feminine role or accepting to be held back/patronised because of her sex. That's the (terrible) beauty of the worlds McGuire builds in this series: as cruel as they can be, at the end of the day, their rules aren't more suffocating or unreasonable than the ones our "civilised" world does its utmost to enforce on us.


McGuire packs a lot of themes into a book that's less than 200 pages long: friendship, loyalty, bravery, sacrifice, loss, belonging, free will. Outrageously, two pivotal events/moments in the story even occur off-page, and get summarised in a couple of sentences. It's a bold choice, and one that shouldn't work, except it ultimately does - maybe more for one of those than for the other, because we can't help but feeling we got robbed of a great adventure, and even more, of an emotional punch. Yet, I'm not sure that - had In an Absent Dream been a full-length novel - our reading experience would have been enhanced. As usual with this series, or even more than ever (except with Beneath the Sugar Sky), the world-building is exquisite, and the Goblin Market might really be only a door away. We can only hope that McGuire still has a lot of them left to open 🙂.

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 "Beneath the Sugar Sky" review (third 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. Glad you're still enjoying these books! That is interesting that important moments happened off screen like that, and yet still worked. I feel like it can be hard to put a lot of depth into 200 pages, but it sounds like this author does it well!

    1. She does! Seriously, everyone who likes fantasy books that aren't rooted in the past should try her at some point 🙂. I don't even like fantasy that much, and look at me LOL.

  2. I've loved seeing how much you enjoy this series as your reviews continue on ^.^

    1. The first book was more of a love/hate mess for me, but I was hooked enough to continue, and I'm so glad I did!

  3. I really enjoy origin stories for a series I am deeply entrenched in. Glad to head this one was so successful, because I know you are a big fan.

    1. This series format allows McGuire to go back and forth with her characters, and it's really well done!


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