Readers everywhere have been in love with Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series since it began in 2016. There was so much hype around Every Heart a Doorway when it was released, and it was hype I was so in on. I love ‘aftermath’ stories, especially in SFF. Give me a story about a Chosen One dealing with their trauma and I am all over it, so a series about the people that magical lands like Narnia and Wonderland spit back out sounded so up my street.
Plus… it’s Seanan McGuire! I first read McGuire back in 2014 when I read Feed, which she wrote as Mira Grant, and that book remains one of my all-time favourite novels. I sobbed at the end of that book the way I have never cried at a book before, and I grew up on Noughts & Crosses.
Naturally I pre-ordered Every Heart a Doorway – how could I not want to own a novella with such a gorgeous cover? – and then it arrived and… and yeah, I didn’t like it.
For now I’m not going to talk about the plot issues with this book (namely that the murder mystery is a bit rubbish), and instead I’m going to talk about the other reason this book continues to annoy me even though I unhauled my copy many a year ago.
Friends, every time someone makes a list of books with asexual rep this damn novella is on it, and the ace rep is BAD. It’s not incorrect. I will give this book credit for having a character actually describe herself as asexual on the page, particularly back in 2016 when it was talked about far less than it is now. That doesn’t mean it’s good rep, though, and just because there isn’t a huge amount of asexual rep in fiction doesn’t mean we should keep recommending the bad kind. Nancy has left me with a horrid taste in my mouth ever since I read this novella, and I hadn’t even come to terms with the fact that I’m on the ace spectrum in 2016.
Admittedly it’s been a while since I read this book, but Nancy is our protagonist and she is trying to cope with no longer being in the magical world she stumbled into. This world, to me, had a bit of a Greek Underworld vibe, but where Greek mythology is BONKERS and boisterous, Nancy laments no longer being in a world where she literally stood still as a statue. She even learned how to barely breathe while she was there.
So we have what is probably many readers’ first encounter with a fictional ace character, and she’s basically dead inside.
When so much of the stigma around asexuality involves comparing ace-spec people to robots or claiming we have no feelings, I found Nancy such a slap in the face as a character. Plus, if my memory serves me correctly, Nancy does return to her fantastical world at the end. She doesn’t get to stay with the other teenagers, instead she practically gets floated down the Styx with two coins on her eyes for the boatman. I have no idea if she returns in any of the other novellas – the only other one I’ve read is Across the Green Grass Fields, which I did adore – but I know Nancy isn’t the only character who made readers a little uncomfortable in this first novella, as we also have an Asian character who reads like an anime manic pixie dream girl and a Mexican character whose fantastical world is based entirely on el Día de los Muertos.
All reading is subjective and I’m sure there are other ace-spec people who found nothing wrong with this novella or with Nancy, and that’s fine! I do think we can do much better than this rep, though. It’s always going to suck that the first canonically ace character I can remember reading wants nothing more than to stand very still in a very dark room.