In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire
My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes
Series: Wayward Children #4
Date Published: January 8th, 2019
Pages: 208 pages
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository
Synopsis: This is the story of a very serious young girl who would rather study and dream than become a respectable housewife and live up to the expectations of the world around her. As well she should.
When she finds a doorway to a world founded on logic and reason, riddles and lies, she thinks she’s found her paradise. Alas, everything costs at the goblin market, and when her time there is drawing to a close, she makes the kind of bargain that never plays out well.
For anyone . . .
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
This is a spoiler-free review.
Just when I think this series cannot possibly get any better, Seanan McGuire does it again. In an Absent Dream is most definitely my favorite installment in the series thus far. Like the other novels in this series, it has taken me months to write a review for it as it is so difficult to find the rights words to do justice to this beautiful piece of literature. This is once again a modern fairytale—a fractured fairytale—that transports the reader into a vividly depicted and enrapturing world. The very exquisite yet bittersweet plot line is filled with a perfect blend of relatable reality and the peculiar, dark, and bizarre elements that make up this unique and captivating series.
This novel is quite reminiscent of the second novel, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, in that it is a prequel following one of the main characters of the series through their door. We follow Katherine Lundy—later a therapist at Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children—beginning when, as a young child, she finds her door. Lundy finds difficulty fitting in and lacks friends in the real world. With books as her only company, she enjoys becoming lost in her imagination, though this comes with the disappointment of knowing any life she could have would never match up. Then, her door appears and she is swept up into the world of the Goblin Market.
The Goblin Market has only three rules: ask for nothing, names have power, and always give fair value. It is a world that revolves around fairness and respect for others. One must always provide fair value for all goods and services or face punishment until all debts are repaid. Here, Lundy discovers herself, what she wants out of life, and a place where she truly fits, something with which she struggles in the real world. However, things are not as straightforward as they seem and she is faced with making a seemingly impossible choice that approaches faster each day.
The world McGuire creates in this novel is easily one of her best. The world she constructs is so rich in detail and she builds it up around the reader. It is as if we could actually step through that door and wander through the Goblin Market. The characters were wonderful—well-constructed and multidimensional—and so easy to fall in love with. Despite the fantastical elements of the plot, McGuire always manages to build characters that are extremely easy to relate to. Lundy is portrayed so well and getting to know her over the course of the book is a unique and enjoyable experience. And Lundy’s relationships with Moon and the Archivist are so beautiful.
As always, the writing is magnificent. I feel that McGuire’s narrative voice and writing style hit the mark particularly well for the type of story she is telling here. It is warm and inviting with a poignant undercurrent of sadness, longing, and even a bit of danger and foreboding. Her words not only convey the tone of the novel, but they also weave an intricate tale that feels seasoned as if it has been passed down through generations. Every emotion is so tangible and it is incredibly easy to connect with the characters—their triumphs, their struggles, everything roots the reader in their lives.
The narrative jumps around quite a bit, with gaps in time that we do not get to see as readers and I was unsure at first how I felt about this. There are intriguing adventures that are only vaguely referenced and part of me longed to experience them. However, this style grew on me quite a lot and I learned to appreciate how this type of progression contributed to the overall message of the story. In this way, the relentless march of time becomes one of the primary themes and it is an absolutely crucial element of the plot.
Refraining from portraying certain major events in Lundy’s life at the Goblin Market further highlights the struggle she goes through and the huge choice that looms over her. She essentially leads a double life, in conflict over her loyalties to her newfound friends and her family—the comforts of home and the excitement and possibility that lies before her behind her door. Getting to see her connection to both environments and the stark contrast between them highlights her inner turmoil.
I am sure it is quite clear by now that I absolutely adored this novel. I still feel that there is so much more to say, but that I have done my best to put my thoughts into words that capture the beauty of this work. McGuire knows all the right ways to anchor her readers in her unique worlds and tell a story that inspires, enchants, and pulls at one’s heartstrings. Each one is even more impactful than the previous. Every novel McGuire writes is truly a piece of art, and this fourth installment once again proves to be an absolute masterpiece. I never want this series to end.