In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

Publisher – Tor

Published – Out Now

Price - £6.94 Kindle eBook

The story of Lundy, the story of Lundy, 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.

When we hear tales of Narnia and the many other magical worlds kids sometimes travel to in books the question is asked well why would you stay on Earth? The Wayward Children series from Seanan McGuire have examined the consequences of these adventures. How the children in them changed and if they could ever fit again in this non-magical and often uncaring world. In this bittersweet tale we see both the benefits and the heartbreak these types of world can create.

When we first meet Lundy (originally Katherine) she is not the child you would immediately think of welcoming an adventure. The middle child in the family she is largely left alone by her parents who just see her on a path to the being in a decent job, married with children. She doesn’t have friends and she’s largely lost in a book so when she finds the door to the Goblin Market, in some ways her detachment from our world allows her to adapt quickly as she is a very practical logical child with no major ties. She can read books, have adventures and she is finally starting to make friends, but the Goblin Market has an unusual property. It lets the children who visit it leave and decide if they want to come back until their 18th birthday when they must decide to stay or be forever exiled.  That’s an easy choice…right?

The big adventures that Katherine experiences (who henceforth decides that Lundy is a better name) are mentioned only in passing. The focus here is on the life you have in the world afterwards. The Goblin Market is one of the more logical worlds in the series.  Everyone must obey the concept of fair value. If you want someone thing where that be information, food or magic you must offer a suitable exchange. If you don’t pay your debts the Market itself will then make the debtor physically change – eyes will widen, claws and feathers develop; into this we see Moon – Lundy’s best friend who is a little wilder and play things by ear rather than Lundy’s methodical way of looking at things and solving problems.  It’s a warm friendship especially knowing Lundy had no other friends. But you worry that their differences will be too much to overcome as they grow.

In each of Lundy’s visits we see the changes in her; she experiences grief, responsibility and learns to take risks. Her returns to our world are initially bleaker. Lundy is growing up in schools where teenage girls aren’t expected to know the answers to questions or decide she wants more from the world than they offered. There is a very creepy girl’s school she is at one point sent to where the treatment of women is horrific and sadly all too true. But at the same time, we see the impact of Lundy’s vanishing on the wider family and that bond while not the easiest is still not one you can easily see her breaking. The reader themselves may feel torn as to the final way Lundy can resolve this. As the story progresses you start wondering who the antagonist is who will cause what the book reminds us will be a heart-breaking ending and there are several suspects in both worlds who may not be as benevolent as you would expect. A world of logic is however not forgiving to anyone who breaks the rules…

This is a compelling series that can be read largely in any order.  This one can work as a standalone or even an introduction to the rest of the series. It’s a quiet intimate tale of growing up and loss and that’s a hallmark of McGuire’s beautiful storytelling approach. The language would fit most children’s tales, but the messages are for the children and adults of today and I cannot wait until we see another door open and meet more of this series amazing children.  Strongly recommended.