In an Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series with In an Absent Dream. This entry tells the story of Katherine Lundy and her adventures in the Goblin Market—and with the even more daunting concepts of obligation and fair value. Katherine is not an unhappy child when we first meet her. She’s also not a particularly happy child. Instead, she’s quiet and obedient, reading her way through life and school until something happens. When it does, Katherine finds herself caught between what she wants for herself and all the promises she’s made to others.

The Goblin Market, we learn from the Archivist who conveniently clues Katherine in at the beginning of the novel, is a place where debts manifest in feathers, claws, horns, and other animalistic features. Too many debts and people turn into animals. Everything runs on trade and the trades must be fair. Bad trades can incur debt, too. Katherine takes to this world like a duck to water, especially since she has her friend Moon and the guidance of the Archivist. For years, Katherine escapes away to the Goblin Market from her humdrum life, armed with a bag full of things to trade, to have more fun than she could ever have as the daughter of a school principal. She comes to life so much at the Goblin Market that, when she returns home, that it seems like all the color has been bleached out of those sections. 

In an Absent Dream puts the focus on Katherine’s inner dilemmas. There are references to her greatest adventures in the Goblin Market, but her most harrowing challenges come when Katherine tries to meet all her obligations. In the Goblin Market, all promises must be kept. Breaking a promise could mean turning into an animal. Katherine worries constantly that she might not be giving fair value in her friendship to Moon or to her parents and sister in our world. When a person is caught between two big obligations, where is the space for them to do what they want? One way of thinking would call Katherine selfish for all the worry she causes her family, or a bad friend for leaving others hanging in the Goblin Market. Another way of thinking could argue that those who hold obligations over Katherine are the selfish ones. Is it fair to force Katherine to conform when it means she misses out on a bolder, possibly better life? 

This novella is yet another beautiful, thoughtful entry in the Wayward Children series. Like all good fairy tales, it contains a life lesson for readers to chew over after the last page. Like all great fairy tales, that lesson isn’t dropped on us like a ton of metaphorical bricks. In an Absent Dream lets its lessons about obligation, value, and selfishness build up slowly, all while keeping us entertained with a lively, plausible fantasy world that left me wanting more. 

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. It will be released 8 January 2019.

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