Darkest Candyland: Seanan McGuire’s Beneath the Sugar Sky

Beneath the Sugar Sky, the third in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, was recently released into the wild. Before I get into my review of the novella, I want you to take a minute to read this essay that McGuire wrote for Tor.com regarding My Little Pony. I’ll wait.

Back? Great. I had you read that because it gives you a hint at what might you might find when you dive into Beneath the Sugar Sky. There aren’t any ponies, but there is plenty of sweet, pink deadliness awaiting the non-wary visitor to Confection, the newest world McGuire opens up in her much-beloved series.

Are you ready? Did you pack your toothbrush? Confection, here we come.

Beneath the Sugar Sky (2018)
Written by: Seanan McGuire
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 157 (Kindle)
Series: Book Three of Wayward Children
Publisher: Tor.com

Why I Chose It: I’ve read the first volume of the series several times and enjoyed the second. I stayed up until the wee hours of January 8th just to get started on this as soon as it hit my Kindle. I am fond of this series and seriously couldn’t wait to find out what was going to happen thanks to the intriguing premise.

Premise:

Beneath the Sugar Sky, the third book in McGuire’s Wayward Children series, returns to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children in a standalone contemporary fantasy for fans of all ages. At this magical boarding school, children who have experienced fantasy adventures are reintroduced to the “real” world.

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. But Rini can’t let Reality get in the way of her quest — not when she has an entire world to save! (Much more common than one would suppose.)

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…

A tale of friendship, baking, and derring-do.

Warning: May contain nuts.

May contain spoilers


This novella, while being third in the series, is more properly a direct sequel to the events that took place in the first novella, Every Heart a Doorway. It takes us back to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, some time after the events from book 1. A new character, Cora, is introduced and serves as the main character here, but we are also reunited with characters that we’ve met before. Kade, Nancy, Christopher, and Eleanor West herself are all revisited. Additionally, a former peripheral character, Nadya, was more fully fleshed out and an important part of the story. I was delighted to see how well Nancy is thriving with the Lord and Lady of the Dead. I was also pleased that we got a little deeper into Kade and Christopher’s stories.

And what stories they are. Kade was a Goblin Prince in Waiting before he was ejected from Prism. We knew a bit about this from book one, but we find out just exactly what that meant. The circumstances surrounding his ejection from what was supposed to be “his” world are explored a bit more fully here, and it’s more than a little upsetting. Christopher, we learn, was suffering from cancer before he found his way to Mariposa, land of living skeletons. His bone flute, an important tool that was brought out again to assist in this volume’s adventure, was actually crafted from his own formerly cancerous bone by the Skeleton Girl who stole Christopher’s heart (figuratively, I must point out). This same flute is somehow tied directly into Christopher’s well-being. Kade explains it as such, after Christopher is forcibly parted from the flute:

“So you want magic in our world, you pretty much have to be paying for it out of your own self, somehow. Most of the time the magic item’d been tied to the person with blood or with tears or with something else that came out of their bodies. Or, in this case, a whole damn bone. The magic that powers the flute is Christopher. If he doesn’t get it back…”

Cora turned to gape at him, horrified. “Are you saying he’ll die?”

“Maybe not die. He’s never been separated from it for more than a few minutes. Maybe he’ll just get really sick. Or maybe the cancer will come back. I don’t know.”  (pgs 106-107)

This conversation takes place once our heroes reach Confection and have been imprisoned by the villainous Queen of Cakes. Now, here is why I wanted you to read about McGuire figuring out that you can get away with writing about monstrous things, as long as you make it glittery and colorful. Confection is a dangerous place, especially under the rule of the Queen of Cakes. Yes, there’s a pink, strawberry soda ocean, but it will kill you just as easily as our own salt-filled seas. We are told that Sumi was forced by the Queen of Cakes to eat a plate of broccoli during one of their confrontations, but the Queen also wanted to cut Sumi open to read her entrails. Even in the midst of a candy wonderland, darkness and horror reside.

I want to discuss something that I’m very interested in learning more about in the series: the idea that all worlds operate on their own particular timetable. Kade, for example, spent three years in Prism, but when he was forced out, he returned as a ten year old rather than the budding teenager that he had become (pgs 38-39, Every Heart a Doorway). Conversely, Jack and Jill, featured most prominently in Down Among the Sticks and Bones, returned to Earth as teenagers. Rini is actually older than Sumi was when she died, and evidently had many happy years with her parents in Confection after Sumi vanquished the Queen of Cakes. Given the extreme time difference between the “present” in Confection versus the timeline of Earth (where Sumi died a relatively short time ago), it makes one wonder about travelers moving through time as well as place when doors are discovered. I hope that we get more information about this in future volumes of the series.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like Rini all that much. Something about her irritated me. I freely acknowledge that we’re not exactly meeting Rini under the best circumstances, and that she is still an immature individual who hasn’t grown up the rest of the way yet. Nevertheless, she wasn’t my favorite part of the story, and for many sections of the book it almost felt as if she was merely along for the ride while Cora, Nadya, Kade, and Christopher were carrying the story along in her place.

I was satisfied and warmed by the novella’s ending. In addition to the resolution of Rini and Sumi’s story, another character finds their way back home. I’m not going to spoil that part, don’t worry. But there were maybe a few happy tears.

In Conclusion: This was an excellent addition to the series. I enjoyed Down Among the Sticks and Bones, but I must confess that I enjoyed this volume a great deal more. I am completely enamored of Eleanor West and her school, plus I enjoyed spending more time with Kade and Christopher. I would argue that one could easily read this directly after Every Heart a Doorway.

2 Comments

  • Shara White January 16, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    I loved reading this. I swear, this is one of my favorite series by McGuire, though frankly, I think I say that about everything, so maybe my opinion isn’t unbiased. That said, I loved getting to see characters we know and love, and I loved getting to see more worlds. The first book never took us through another door in ways that we could really see and experience, unlike the second book, which allowed us to experience the Moors, and unlike this one, which really let us see the Land of the Dead and then Confection. But I also felt like I really got a better grasp on the other worlds for Kade, Christopher, and Cora.

    HOW MUCH DID I LOVE CORA? LET ME COUNT THE WAYS. I love how despite her size, she’s the most athletic one of the group, and how everything she’s able to do has nothing to do with the fact she’s technically overweight, and how people underestimated her as a result. I so want Cora to come back, and I want to *cough* be part of her world. HA! 🙂

    Reply
  • Kelly McCarty January 17, 2018 at 12:30 am

    I’m normally one to go crazy over book covers but I adore this book’s gorgeous cover. I haven’t read this one yet but I liked Every Heart a Doorway better than Down Among the Sticks and Bones, so I’m looking forward to getting back to those characters. I really still want a book in this series to be set in the spider kingdom.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: