I had a lot of high hopes for this one because I love Seanan McGuire’s writing and work. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. And although there were bits and pieces I really enjoyed, there were parts of the experience that left me confused and wanting.
“Welcome to the Hooflands. We’re happy to have you, even if you being here means something’s coming.”
Regan loves, and is loved, though her school-friend situation has become complicated, of late.
When she suddenly finds herself thrust through a doorway that asks her to “Be Sure” before swallowing her whole, Regan must learn to live in a world filled with centaurs, kelpies, and other magical equines―a world that expects its human visitors to step up and be heroes.
But after embracing her time with the herd, Regan discovers that not all forms of heroism are equal, and not all quests are as they seem…
I’ve already heard that The Wayward Children series is hit or miss. Some of the novellas in the series are absolute stunners while others needed a bit more love. Since this is my first book in the Wayward Children series, I can’t compare it to the other books. However, I can criticize it as a stand-alone novel and explain why I really liked where the story was going, but wished there was more to really sink into.
First off, the story starts off with Regan, who for all intents and purposes is your average 11-year-old girl. However, there are these small differences between her and the other girls in her class that make her doubt herself. The story started off strong with this introduction to this main character including concerns of fitting in and being considered a girl. It turns out Regan is intersex (someone born with both sex characteristics) and teased at school for this. I loved that this is how the story starts off; with a little convo about gender norms and how some people can be both. However, that’s pretty much where this conversation ended. I was hoping that maybe this conversation would come up again later in the story, but it really didn’t. It made me wonder why Seanan McGuire brought this up?
And when Regan walked through the door made of trees and branches with the phrase “Be Sure” written across the top, I thought she would discover that being a girl with a lot of testosterone is still considered a girl and finally feel sure of herself. But I feel like it went a way different way.
I did love the idea of Regan being the only human in Hooflands. I loved the centaurs and unicorns and all manner of equine fantasy creatures living in this pastoral land. If you were the type to be into horses as a kid, then this might be nostalgic to those days being young and riding your horse. But it felt like the moment Regan stepped through that door and discovered this other world, small pieces of her reality started to leave her mind. And perhaps that makes sense in some ways because she’s young, impressionable, and in a place where she’s not beholden to gender norms and mean girls who would rather you “make sense” than accept you as you are. I mean, she became best friends with a centaur so maybe that’s exactly what she was going for.
The story read a little bit like Wizard of Oz, a young girl who’s stolen away from the real world and brought to a fanastical place that feels much cooler and accepting than the world she came from. And there’s some bigger mission for Regan to accomplish while in Hooflands, but it felt way too late in the very short story to introduce. We get glimpses of it in the beginning, but it doesn’t come back to the main story until the end.
The reveal itself was definitely interesting and I would have loved to see that story be fleshed out more. It was a very quick conversation and then it was over. Maybe I was expecting too much from such a short novella, but I wanted this reveal to be much bigger than it was. I wanted Regan to use her new skills from living in Hooflands for six years or creating a plan to thwart the royalty in this book, but much of this felt lacking.
Honestly, I thought this book was going to be much more in a small package. It definitely felt whimsical and I loved the descriptions of life in the Hooflands, but the plot felt a bit weak and there were threads introduced in the beginning of the book that didn’t circle back towards the end. Like I mentioned, maybe I was expecting something else from this book and my expectations weren’t met, but this story didn’t really do it for me.
I’m not going to say this book doesn’t have any redeeming qualities. The pastoral lands, the beautiful world building around the magical equine creatures, and even the reveal were all worth the read. If I rated it, I’ll probably mark this with three stars. It’s not a bad thing; it just missed the mark for me. I’ll definitely be reading more books from this series, but as the first one I’ve read, it was okay.
I received a copy of this book from Tor Dot Com for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.