An utterly magical story
In an absent dream
by seanan mcguire
“If you want to help her, you need to help yourself first. No one serves their friends by grinding themselves into dust on the altar of compassion.”―
seanan mcguire, in and absent dream
From the publisher, “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.”
In an Absent Dream, book four in the Wayward Children series is a magical and utterly imaginative story about a lost child named Lundy. In an ordinary town, on a very normal garden path, Katherine Victoria Lundy came to an incredible tree with an impossibly carved door. Through it, she strolled down a hallway whose walls are carved from a single piece of wood that seemed to have no beginning nor end, and came upon signs in neatly done cross stitch declaring rules for this realm, this place that could not be:
- Rule One – Ask for nothing.
- Rule Two – Names have power.
- Rule Three – Always give fair value.
- Rule Four – Obey the curfew.
Katherine Victoria Lundy was six years old. This is her story and how she came to the Goblin Market.
“In the way of bookish children, she carried her books into trees and along the banks of chuckling creeks, weaving her way along their slippery shores with the sort of grace that belongs only to bibliophiles protecting their treasures.
Through the words on the page, she followed Alice down rabbit holes and Dorothy into tornadoes, solved mysteries alongside Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew, flew with Peter to Neverland, and made a wonderful journey to a Mushroom Planet.”
In 1964 six-year-old Katherine, never Kat, Kitty, or Kathy, always Katherine, realized that her life was going to eventually end someday. Before that fateful day, her life would be full of planned moments all taking part in a sequence she could already see: School, husband, work as a librarian, eventually children, then death. She neither dreaded nor welcomed the impending onslaught of events, it just was. Even her family was remarkable in its lack of remarkability. Her father is a plain and ordinary school principal. Her mother was round with the impending birth of her younger sister, and her brother was not interested in his much younger sibling. Everything just…was.
Katherine is in many ways a typical 8-year old, but her personality shines in many unique ways. Like many kids, she does not understand the vagaries and behavior in her peers – yet she surpasses other children (and probably adults) in her ability to understand the broader picture.
It is as if Katherine has a gaping hole in her sense of self and how it is to be a socialized person. Katherine is calm, collected and assured of herself, but she knows that the social aspect of being a kid is something she lacks. So she yearns for that connection. Time passes in the story as it does in life, both very slowly in the minute to minute and all at once like a gale force wind.
Katherine is now 8 years old.
In An Absent Dream progresses, and Katherine becomes more of herself if that is even possible. She is more secure in the knowledge of who she is and what she likes. This is mostly books, something I can identify with. What I enjoy about Seanan Macguire’s ability to write can be summed up in this chapter, “When is a Door Not a Door.”
Children have personalities and souls. They are people in all respects except for age, and authors tend to write about children as if they are not people, but characterizations of what we, as a reader think a child should be. Seanan does not. Katherine is a fully developed, albeit young character.
Katherine is presented a door in a twisted Oak tree with the words, “Be Sure” carved across it. And for reasons that even Katherine does not fully understand, she passes through it into the Goblin Market. Here she is assailed with exotic sounds, adventures, and creatures out of imagination and myth rather than reality.
As a reader, I can almost picture this scene like when we meet the worm from Labyrinth, “don’t go that way…” We also meet a character that becomes a friend, her first therefore best friend, Moon. Katherine, who is now Lundy because true names have power, learns from Moon and The Archivist, another important character, the ins, and outs of the Goblin Market.
The Goblin market is both a setting for the story and even in its own way, a character. The Market is entirely based on perceived fairness. If any deal is struck, words spoke, or actions are taken within the confines of the Market, the Market weighs it against its own standard of fairness. If one fails to make a fair deal, or what is called “fair value,” the market takes action against the perpetrator in the form of debt.
Debt, rather than being its typical elusive and abstract concept, actually makes a physical change on the wearer. If the wearer of the debt continues to act against fair value, they will eventually physically transmogrify into a bird. This is the crux of the story. What is fair value?
Does Lundy want to come back? Does she want to stay? How does she give fair value to her family both blood (the human world), and adopted (the Goblin Market.) How does she live in two worlds, and give fair value to herself? Because the Goblin Market is always watching and taking account. I am not going to give it away, and even with the ending of In An Absent dream and what will be a beginning for Lundy, it is oddly unsatisfying.
In an Absent Dream isn’t a book that wraps morals in a tight and tiny little package to be opened at a later date. Even if I wanted a sweet and happy ending for Lundy, that isn’t in the character of the Market and in the bigger picture, The Wayward series. Fairy tales and fairylands are unique and magical and very seldom kind or gentle.
Each of the Wayward Books touches on essential lessons. Seanan creates a character and place around a crucial social concept. This is no different. The resounding lessons I took from reading In an Absent Dream book were two-fold. Firstly, a chosen family is as strong and vital as a blood family. Secondly, Fair value is up to the user and is becoming increasingly scarce in our world of apathy. What is fair for one, is not fair for another. Context and experience flavor the users perspective. This story is a small allegory for that concept.
In an Absent Dream can function just as easily as a standalone novel as it does as the fourth in the Wayward series and it is a masterpiece folks. An utterly magical story and I highly recommend reading it.
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Elizabeth Tabler runs Beforewegoblog and is constantly immersed in fantasy stories. She was at one time an architect but divides her time now between her family in Portland, Oregon, and as many book worlds as she can get her hands on.
She is also a huge fan of Self Published fantasy and is on Team Qwillery as a judge for SPFBO5. You will find her with a coffee in one hand and her iPad in the other. Find her on: Goodreads / Instagram / Pinterest / Twitter