COME TUMBLING DOWN (Wayward Children #5), by Seanan McGuire


This new installment in McGuire’s Wayward Children series held the double incentive of following up on a previous story, Down Among the Sticks and Bones – one of my favorites – and I was eager to move back to the world of the Moors, its delightful Hammer Horror mood and the characters of twins Jack and Jill.

The last time we saw them, Jack was carrying back to the Moors the body of her sister Jill, that she herself had killed (not that death is exactly final there…); now the novella opens on Eleanor West’s Home and the arrival, after a lightning storm, of Alexis (one of the Moors’ dwellers) with an unconscious Jill in her arms – only it’s not exactly Jill, since there has been an exchange of bodies between the two sisters. Jack-as-Jill asks her former schoolmates to follow her to her world and help her regain her body, one of the compelling reasons for it being that otherwise the carefully maintained balance in the Moors will be thoroughly upset.

That’s as much as I feel entitled to share, since both the group’s journey and the quest’s final outcome must be explored without spoilers, so I prefer to concentrate on the story’s main components – and to get it all off my chest right away, I’m sorry to report that Come Tumbling Down ended being something of a disappointment. Don’t misunderstand me, I enjoyed reading it and I still look forward to the next novellas in the series, but in this case – not unlike what happened with Beneath the Sugar Sky – the overall result fell a little short of the mark.

The writing was as good as ever, as was the world-building, but the characterization seemed to lack the in-depth look I’ve come to expect from Seanan McGuire: as was the case with the third novella of the series, this is a choral story and this choice seems to have diluted the strength in characterization that’s typical of this author when she concentrates on one or two individuals only.

The writing style is as mesmerizing as expected, moving from weirdness to gallows humor to drama with seamless transitions, and it’s the true glue that keeps the various elements together. The further look into the world of the Moors is both fascinating and scary: we shift from the dual perspective of the main players – the vampire lord and the mad scientist – to see other parts of the realm, and learn that other kinds of monsters dwell here. The peek into the domain of the Drowned Gods and its human-inhabited village is truly horrifying and it carries some delightfully fearsome Lovecraftian vibes (Innsmouth, anyone? 🙂 ), that together with the march of resurrected skeletons at the height of the story makes for the highest point of the tale.

The core concept of identity at the root of the series is still strong: the young people at Eleanor West’s academy share a feeling of alienation with our primary world and can find fulfillment and a sense of belonging only by crossing the magical doors leading them to the various alternate worlds they inhabit for a while. Here that quest for identity gains a new layer of meaning: the body exchange perpetrated by Jill and suffered by Jack might not look like such a tragedy from the outside, since they are identical twins, but through Jack’s own words we learn that what we do with out bodies, and how much our minds form connections with them, creates unique bonds that go way beyond simple muscle memory, and whose severing causes intense trauma.

Where all of the above created a strong foundation for the story, the characters felt a little unsubstantial this time: I could not connect emotionally with any of them, not even when some truly horrifying things happened, and what’s worse I’m still puzzling over the need for the whole group to travel to the Moors, since their contribution to Jack’s “mission” was quite minimal, if any, especially during the final showdown – something that happened far too quickly and with the kind of ease that belied Jack’s passionate request for help.

The other major point of contention comes from the concept that in the Moors death is not a permanent state: we go from Frankenstein-like electrically induced revivals, to the unexpected resurrection of people who seemed to tragically lose their lives, and what it all comes down to – at least for me – is the fundamental irrelevance of any dramatic turn of events. Granted, there is always a price to be paid for a return to life (or something approaching it), but in the end it removes personal stakes or any emotional impact attached to the loss of a given character.

While somewhat frustrated by the way this much-looked-for installment turned out, I still hope that the next one will be more in keeping with the series’ overall tone and mood.


My Rating:

18 thoughts on “COME TUMBLING DOWN (Wayward Children #5), by Seanan McGuire

  1. I am so sorry this one fell short of the mark! I have just read the third book in this series, so it would pass quite a lot of time before I would start this one, but I would lower my expectations because, even if I don’t have a lot of expectations for the fourth book, I was expecting so much from this fifth one because of Jack and Jill, and their world.
    Anyway, I hope your next reading would be amazing and you wrote a fantastic review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks!
      The other books in the series (with the exception of the third one, which was also slightly disappointing) lead me to believe that the next one might get back on track, so I will consider this like a small misstep and forge on 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Really good review, Maddalena, I agree. There was so much going on in this story, too many quick side trips with different characters that just weren’t satisfying. I would love a story that revolves only around the drowned gods and Cora, for example. But I always anticipate the next book in this series, even when I’m a little disappointed😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those drowned gods sounded delightfully scary, indeed, and I would like to see them featured in one of the next books: the Lovecraftian vibes were so strong that I was almost sorry when the group made their escape! Yes, I’m twisted that way… 😀


  3. Sorry this one was a disappointment! Your review is in line with other reviews of this book I’ve read, as if McGuire didn’t have enough time to do it in style we’ve grown accustomed to. Maybe next one will be better! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So how many books do you thnk this series has to go? I’m hoping to just binge them all when it’s finished 🙂 Sorry to hear this one took a little dip in the ratings, but that’s why I’m hoping if I get to read it all together I can better weather those bumps in the road 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good question… Her October Daye series has now reached book 13, the Incryptid series (where I’m woefully behind) is at nr. 9 – and I’m not counting the in-between novellas for both of them. So I’m not sure it’s a good idea to wait too long… 😉


  5. These books have been hit or miss for me so far, the ones I love I REALLY love, and then others have been very meh. It looks like this is one of the ‘meh’ ones unfortunately, sorry this missed the mark.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sorry it disappointed you Maddalena! And yes when we are used to an author doing a stellar job character building wise, it’s a bitter pill to swallow!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s possible that part of my disappointment came from the fact I really loved Among the Sticks and Bones, and wanted more of the same from those amazing characters. Expectations can be our worst enemies sometimes…. 🙂


  7. sorry this was a bit of a let down for you! Maybe peg it for a reread later? I think I’m having trouble concentrating and connecting with books I would otherwise enjoy just due to the sheer amount of stress we are all under. Either way, hope the next one is better for you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have no doubt that McGuire will go back to what I consider her usual narrative strength with the next one. And books right now are the best way to fight the generalized stress and overcome our… lockdown depression. 🙂


  8. Ah… this is always an issue with a stellar author. Because there are always dips in writing – and from your excellent review, I gathered that she tried to cover too many bases, probably with too few words. I happen to think that getting the pacing, setting AND characterisation absolutely spot on in a novella is technically one of the biggest challenges an author faces. As you say, with an author as talented as this one, it is bound to be a stumble rather than a fall.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I do hope the next one will be far superior for you. This seems like it missed the mark when it could’ve somehow avoided the issues you raise. I have yet to start this series but I got my hands on the first couple of books and look forward to diving into them now. Fantastic review as always, Maddalena! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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