I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Across the Green Grass Fields (Wayward Children, #6) by Seanan McGuire
Representation: Intersex MC
on 12th January 2021
Genres: Portal Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
A young girl discovers a portal to a land filled with centaurs and unicorns in Seanan McGuire's Across the Green Grass Fields, a standalone tale in the Hugo and Nebula Award-wining Wayward Children series.
“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…
~A friend who won’t let you pet snakes is no friend at all
~Unicorns are Very Beautiful, Very Dumb, and Very Tasty
~Centaurs are a girl’s best friend
~Thumbs are a superpower
~Santa cannot leave candy in horseshoes
~We could have avoided all of this if you’d just given your kid a day off from school
That’s it, pack it up, everyone else can go home. Seanan just won 2021, and we haven’t even gotten past January. Talk about setting the bar high for the rest of the year!
(…There’s a dressage joke in their somewhere, but I don’t know enough about horses to put it together. Ah, well. Pretend I did!)
Across the Green Grass Fields is equally welcoming to long-time readers of the series, and those who have never picked up a Waryward Children book before; it stands alone perfectly. And as ever, it’s incredible how much awesomeness McGuire managed to pack into so few pages.
‘Children are people, actually’ and ‘there’s no one way to be a girl’ are both big themes in McGuire’s books, and Across the Green Grass Fields incorporates both. At the beginning of the book, poor Regan has spent most of her ten years of life squeezed into the tiny box of her ‘best friend’s’ ideas about what a girl should and should not be – and do, and like. (Insert some wryly hilarious commentary on how Regan’s love of horses is considered perfectly acceptable for a girl…despite how big, smelly, and potentially dangerous they can be. It’s the kind of thing McGuire does so well; neatly highlighting the paradoxes in our societal programming and holding them under a microscope for us to take a good long look at.) When Regan discovers that she’s intersex, the box finally shatters, and she runs away – and ends up in the Hooflands, a world populated not just by centaurs and unicorns, but hippogryphs and perytons and kelpies too; every magical creature you can think of and plenty you can’t, so long as it has hooves! Here, humans are harbingers of disaster, but despite that, Regan is welcomed, loved, and functionally adopted by the centaur herd who find her.
All the Wayward Children books are about finding your true home; that’s what the Doors do (but possibly not what they’re for. We may never know what they’re for, and I’m okay with that). But it’s not just Regan’s love of horses that makes the Hooflands home for her; in being the only human in that world, no one thinks she’s strange for getting taller but not curvier – it seems like she won’t go through puberty without hormone treatments, but that’s okay, and it’s okay in a way it might not have been if she’d stayed in our world. In the Hooflands, there’s no one to compare herself to and be found lacking; there are no societal beauty standards, no peer pressure, no labels. No confusing Wikipedia articles! She’s just…human.
And there’s no wrong way to be that.
We don’t know a lot of specific details about the journeys of most of the series’ characters through their own Doors; how old they were when they went, how long they stayed. Regan finds the Hooflands when she’s ten, which is alarmingly young considering that she’s supposed to save it from something terrible. But she doesn’t have to save the world at ten. It’s okay. She gets to just be.
For a while.
The Hooflands is pretty idyllic for Regan, but it’s never that simple with McGuire. There are all kinds of prejudices among the different species, and even the creatures Regan is told are mindless monsters…maybe aren’t, actually. And that’s a hard thing to wrap your head around as an adult, but it’s hard for kids, too; learning that even the people you love, who love you, aren’t perfect. It’s hard not to compare Regan’s human parents with her centaur family: both love her dearly just as she is, and support her the best way they know how, but they’re still flawed. They make mistakes. They don’t always understand. The truths they tell her are perhaps not the only truths, or not true at all.
It doesn’t make them less loving. It’s just that they’re mortal, and therefore imperfect. That’s a hard moment, when you realise that as a kid, but McGuire has never pretended that being a child is easy, and never flinched away from portraying those hard moments, reminding us of them. Children are people too, and those of us who aren’t children anymore really need to remember that. Too many of us forget.
Another thing we should remember: It’s the ones Regan’s been taught are monsters who turn out to be people. And it’s the ones who are supposed to be people who are, in the end, the very worst of the monsters.
The worldbuilding is a delight; I will never stop being impressed with the sheer diversity of the magical creatures in McGuire’s books. Most people know what a centaur is, I think; far fewer will recognise the Hoofland’s perytons. We even get a creature I’d never heard of before! I’m a hardcore folklore fan, okay; I do not encounter magical creatures I don’t know very often – unless an author has created their own, obviously. So it delights me when I get to discover a new one! I use this to illustrate just how well McGuire knows her myths, that she can draw on so many, but she passes all of it through her own filter of awesome and creates so much that is wholly and uniquely her own. The Hooflands is purely her own creation, and it’s a marvelous one; I especially loved the details of centaur courtship, and finally getting an answer on how baby centaurs work! All the delights, though, are woven through with McGuire’s signature wry, half-dark humour; unicorns aren’t very magical in the Hooflands…but they sure are delicious when barbecued! And that’s just so hilariously-horrifyingly typical of McGuire’s spin on the fantastical.
Equally typical is what Across the Green Grass Fields has to say about chosen ones, and how they’re made – but that’s something you really need to read about for yourselves.
Tl;dr: another beautiful, brutal, and powerful instalment in a series that really ought to be mandatory reading by now. It’s out tomorrow, and you really mustn’t miss it!