Welcome to part two of the third buddy read of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series! For this read, I am teaming up once again with Marzie’s Reads and guest commenter and friend of the blog, Janelle.
Beneath the Sugar Sky is the third in the Wayward Children series of novellas if you read the books in publication order, and the third book chronologically (for now). We’re reading the books in publication order for this discussion.
Beneath the Sugar Sky returns to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. At this magical boarding school, children who have experienced fantasy adventures are reintroduced to the “real” world.
Sumi died years before her prophesied daughter Rini could be born. Rini was born anyway, and now she’s trying to bring her mother back from a world without magic.
I think this might be the fluffiest thing Seanan has ever written. It’s a delightful story, with lots of disturbing little details that are signature Seanan, but it’s significantly lighter than most of what she writes, and I struggled with that. I particularly loved Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones, the previous two Wayward Children novellas, because they were heavy with emotional weight. Even beneath the sugary surface of Beneath the Sugar Sky I found a fluffy cotton candy core, a bit too light for me.
That’s not to say that Beneath the Sugar Sky is without emotional weight or an important story – Seanan carries on her tradition of making the Wayward Children series inclusive and the characters, both familiar and new, are diverse in myriad ways. This book might resonate more strongly for others than it did with me. In the first two stories, I saw a lot of myself in Nancy and in Jack. In Beneath the Sugar Sky, I just didn’t have that same emotional connection with any of the characters (though it only made my desire for Christopher’s story that much stronger!).
The Wayward Children series is for all of us who felt like the world didn’t quite fit us, in one way or another.
Beneath the Sugar Sky is a sneaky book – a lot like Confection, it has a fluffy, sugary exterior, but when you think about it a bit more, you find a solid core hidden in the center of the story.
If you haven’t read part one of our discussion at Marzie’s Reads, click over and be sure to come back and read part two below!
Marzie: So let me ask a question about the structural aspects of the book. I found it interesting that this was a quest book, and that Kade took the lead, not a grownup like Eleanor.
Alex: I LOVED that it was a straightforward quest book. It was a nice reminder that most of the kids at the school were Heroes in their worlds, and their natural inclinations are to Solve The Problem.
Janelle: I loved that we got a reminder that the school doesn’t tolerate Quests, and that six of them rode out on the Quest.
Marzie: I laughed every time Kade wondered how he was going to explain everything to Eleanor. Like that was the biggest problem he faced. It was an unusual quest, to say the least. The aspect of their having been heroes, also brings to mind how these brave kids have to be in their lives, especially if they come back here, rather than staying in their homeworld.
Janelle: Yeah, it was definitely not a stereotypical quest, but it did have a hero’s journey motif. Just bizarre, and some of it was Nonsense. Agreed about the bravery aspect. Mostly, these kids were brave without even questioning if they should be afraid. I think that was indicative that, yes, these kids were heroes in the place they belong.
Alex: I think the only coward we’ve truly encountered in the whole series, at least of the kids at the school, is ultimately Jill.
Janelle: Jill, Jill, Jill. Love to hate her.
Marzie: I swear, if I had a dartboard, Jill’s image would be on it. With her necklace? That one. Full of holes. Sorry, Rovina Cai!
Marzie: Another thing I find interesting is that we’re three books into the series and now we go back to get Lundy’s backstory. I’m kind of surprised we’ve seen so little reminder of who Lundy was in book 3. And what role she played in Eleanor’s school.
Janelle: That’s what makes me think that Jill, and what she did, is going to be ultimately more important to the series than I was guessing. Why else would we get the backstory of a character who died in book one?
Alex: I think that we’re getting Lundy’s backstory next so that people don’t forget who she is since she dies in the first book. I think if her book were like #8 or 9 in the series, too much time would have passed between her death and her book.
Marzie: That makes me think that somehow Lundy is still important to the overarching storyline.
Janelle: Yeah, me too.
Alex: I liked getting to really, truly experience Confection, without necessarily having to have a whole book set there. It’s very much an Alice in Wonderland kind of story, and I liked that the Queen’s big flaw is that she wants to bring order to the world of Nonsense.
Marzie: Nice analogy with Wonderland and the Queen. I enjoyed seeing the Halls of the Dead, too. It was good to see Nancy happy there. I’d been curious about how the place was run and how the slowing down could stop aging.
Janelle: It was really neat to see Confection and the Hall of the Dead.
Alex: The Halls of the Dead sound like an amazing place to vacation and recover from anxiety, but I wouldn’t want to spend eternity there. The velvet sky, the pomegranate grove, the slowness.
Janelle: Yeah, they sound a little boring. I wouldn’t want to be living statue art. Unless I was the Lady of the Dead and making other people be my living statue art.
Marzie: I have yet to find the portal world in this series where I would happily spend eternity.
Alex: Me either, but I’m excited to keep looking and discovering new worlds
Janelle: I could live happily in the Moors, I think I’ve said. But I would like to see if there’s one she comes up with I’d like more. I’m really curious about Prism.
Marzie: I’d agree that I want to see more worlds. Do you wonder if seeing all these other worlds and not thinking we could live there forever is part of Seanan’s goal- to make us appreciate what we love in this world? The adventures of her portal worlds are exciting, but living there… hmmm.
Alex: I’m not sure I agree – since the crux of the stories are that some of the kids DO get to go back through their doors and live happily ever after. I think it’s more important that people have the hope that someday they’ll find their door to a place that fits them better than ours does.
Janelle: I don’t think I agree, since everyone wants to go home, and we’re all rooting for them to find their doors again.
Marzie: I don’t want Kade to go back to a world that didn’t value him as he is. Not all these worlds are awesome. But there’s a lot to be said I guess for not judging what one person enjoys even if it doesn’t appeal to you personally. Many of the others do love and miss their portal worlds.
Alex: KADE doesn’t even want to go back. But Nancy, Cora, Nadya, Jack, Jill, Christopher and every other kid at Eleanor Wests’s DOES want to go back. And a lot of them do. They get to live their happily ever afters.
Janelle: I want Kade to become a deity like the Baker, in whatever world would allow him to do so.
Marzie: So perhaps the chance of a portal world is an exercise in discernment, about whether it’s right for you, and if you are like the Baker if you can shift your chosen world to be what you believe it needs to be.
Alex: I think Kade’s new world is Eleanor West’s. He’s going to be the king of that domain as soon as Eleanor shuffles off to her world. I don’t think he’d want to be a deity.
Marzie: So effectively, Kade is the Baker of the School, after Eleanor steps away. But is the Baker truly a deity, I wonder? Because the last Baker left. Can you step down from being a god?
Janelle: I simply mean deity in the sense that Cora used it when she first learned how Confection came to be created. Not necessarily a god, but able to affect change on a large scale, such as creation, or bringing people back from the dead, and the like. Traditional roles that mythology has built up as godly, but not necessarily so.
Alex: LOL so, a Firstborn, to put it in context of October Daye?
Marzie: Oh, good analogy!
Alex: I wonder then if the different worlds are like the realms of Faerie and the shallowings, as in the October Daye series?
Marzie: It’s an interesting thought, and as we’ve discussed, Seanan does do iterations on the same theme in different books and series. Sometimes it is great to explore different iterations of the same type of worldbuilding structure.
Alex: Anything else we want to bring up about BTSS? Final thoughts?
Marzie: My final thoughts are that this book felt odd in the series but had things I still genuinely loved, even though I wanted to gag Rini, who initiates the quest in this book.
Alex: I liked BTSS more the second time through, but I think Rini is a serious weak point in the book that made it hard to love BTSS as much as I loved the other two in the series. Looking forward, I am really excited to learn more about Lundy’s life before she landed at Eleanor West’s.
Janelle: I liked BTSS better today than I did the first time, I agree, but it was just too much Nonsense for me. And Rini was like the voice of Nonsense, and she bugged me.
Marzie: That’s true, she was the voice of Nonsense, but then the Baker is the counterpoint voice of Nonsense, too. All in all, a nice place to visit for a very short time. I’m very excited to read Lundy’s story also.
Marzie: Janelle, thanks for discussing with us!
Janelle: Thank you for having me, this was really fun!
Join us early next month for our reviews and discussion of the fourth and latest book in Wayward Children series, In an Absent Dream!