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Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway

G D Penman By G D Penman Published on July 1, 2016

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Every Heart a Doorway is currently sitting pretty high on my list of the best books that I have ever read.

I know that I am meant to be objective as a reviewer and weigh the strong and weak points of each story to give you an idea if you the reader are going to like it and I cannot think of a single person who would not like this book. It is as close to flawless as I have seen in recent years. The cadence of the writing is a perfect fit for the plot. The characters are all rich and well developed through incidental description and dialogue. The world building is intense without being overbearing. I laughed out loud at some of the witty dialogue, which is not common, I am more of a quiet smirking kind of guy.

The story revolves around a school for boys and girls who have returned to earth from a portal fantasy. Picking up their story after most other stories end. We follow several teenagers as they grapple with a return to mundane reality after spending what felt like a lifetime in a world that, while not specifically tailored to their unique needs and personality, was at least a much closer match. Fairyland, Wonderland and Narnia are all clearly referenced but there are also worlds that more closely resemble a journey to the underworld or into a much darker fantasy.

It was the treatment of those people who went to a reality that others would consider to be akin to a horror movie that really got me hooked on this story. They are treated just the same as everyone else. Their experiences are not invalidated just because they don’t match up to our morality and while there are some personality quirks that you develop as an assistant to an expy of a Hammer Horror version of Dr Frankenstein. The characters that travelled to these “Wicked” worlds and “Underworlds” long to return to them just as strongly as all the rest. The values dissonance between the different fantasies, even the “Virtuous” ones, is a key component to the conflict between the characters but it is interesting to note that they are all putting in the effort to get along despite their differences, with one or two exceptions.

There is a strong undercurrent in the story that the characters were chosen to travel for their uniqueness and the individuality that was being utterly ignored in our world, so it should come as no surprise that many of the characters land in a scatter graph of sexual and gender identities. All of this is treated as unimportant within the world of the book, after all, if you spent all your days fighting for the heart of the Wasp Queen or talking to sentient candyfloss it seems unlikely that something like a transgender person would even ping on your radar of the unusual any more.

The final twist in this book, is that the protagonist’s story and the one that you are reading only barely intersect. There is a murder mystery at play in the school, with girls getting picked off one by one, but it is less relevant than Nancy’s journey to finding peace back on earth. There is a bitter-sweet quality to so much of this book. The characters have reached the highest point of their life before they even got to have a normal experience of earth, and the longing that they all feel to return to their alien homes will resonate deeply with anyone who has ever felt out of place in the world that is meant to be home. 

G.D. Penman writes about queer monsters for a living. He is the author of Call Your Steel, The Year of the Knife, Heart of Winter, Apocrypha and many other books. He is also a full-time freelance ... Show More

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