Come Tumbling Down follows directly from two previous installments of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones. Jack Wolcott turns up at the school, extremely distraught and for good reason: her twin Jill forcibly switched bodies with her. Jack and her friends Cora, Sumi, Kade, and Christopher have a limited time to return to the Moors and reverse the body-switch before Jill’s vampiric mentor turns her.
The world of the Moors is full of horror-movie tropes, and as a longtime horror fan, I found a lot to love here. While the main conflict is between the vampire and mad-scientist factions, we also learn more about a group only briefly mentioned in Down Among the Sticks and Bones, the Drowned Abbey. This new story element also gives us a bit of insight into the larger workings of the multiverse. While the powers that rule the Drowned Abbey are very different from those of the ocean world Cora went to, she still hears their call, suggesting that entities in the individual worlds might represent larger multiversal forces.
One of the things I enjoyed most about this story was spending more time with characters I’d gotten to know from the previous novellas. While In an Absent Dream was wonderful (and took the top slot on my Hugo ballot), it was largely separate from the larger Wayward Children milieu. The next installment, due out in 2021, looks like it’s also going to be at a remove from the rest of the series. In between these two standalones, it was great to go on another adventure with familiar characters and see how they interacted with each other and with a new environment.
One other thematic element of the story is worth mentioning. As the book starts, Jack has been forced into a body that isn’t her own. Because she and Jill are identical twins, it’s very similar, but the small differences are frequently highlighted. (For example, Jill doesn’t do much physical work, so her hands don’t have the calluses that Jack’s do.) Regardless of the broad similarities, Jill’s body isn’t Jack’s, and the narrative makes it pretty clear that Jack is suffering from dysphoria as a result. Most of Jack’s friends understand this immediately and are determined to help restore her to her proper body. When Eleanor suggests that Jack should try “being happy with the body she has,” her friends quickly shoot this idea down. There’s an obvious parallel here to the experiences of trans people, and it was great to see Jack’s friends rally around her.
The Wayward Children series has become one of my favorite fantasy stories, with a fresh take on the portal fantasy subgenre. Across the Green Grass Fields is set for release in early 2021, and I look forward to reading it.