Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire – The third book in the Wayward Children series follows up on the first. A girl named Rini arrives at Eleanor West’s home, looking for her mother Onishi Sumi, who had been murdered. As she was supposed to have defeated the Queen of Cakes, history is being rewritten in the confectionary world that Sumi visited. Christopher Flores, who had visited a world themed around Dio de Muertos, temporarily brings Sumi back to life so they can sort things out. There’s a lot of description of Confection, its history of successive baker-creators and how physics works there, whether someone could drown in soda and if it’s safe to eat the landscape. Edible worlds are obviously an old theme, and one I’ve come across a lot especially in stories for young children, and McGuire puts an interesting twist on it. I’ll admit that, while I found the supporting cast intriguing, I couldn’t always keep track of who was who. Hopefully later books in the series will help with this.
In an Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire – The fourth book in the series tells the story of Katherine Lundy, who finds a magical door to the Goblin Market. The place comes from the poem by Christina Rossetti, which was also referenced in McGuire’s Tricks for Free. Here, the market is a fanciful place where the people are obsessed with the concept of fair value. What’s interesting about it is that we hear of a lot of adventures Lundy had in the market world, but only second-hand. It’s more about her relationships with people in the market and her own world, and how her family deals with her going missing for long periods of time, complicated by how her father had also been there in his youth.
Paola Santiago and the River of Tears, by Tehlor Kay Mejia – Another in the Rick Riordan Presents series, this one focuses on Latin American folklore. The titular character is a very scientific-minded character who’s embarrassed by her mother’s superstitious beliefs. When her friend disappears, she and her friend Dante go to investigate, and find out there’s some truth in the old legends after all. Both La Llorona and Chupacabras play significant roles, and there’s a shape-shifting shoe in the mix. I think the story meandered a bit, but I liked Paola as a protagonist, and the book touched on some serious issues. I found it interesting that one of La Llorona’s kids was named Ondina. I don’t know of any traditional names for these children, but the name has links to a water spirit in European folklore who, in some tales, married a mortal and later killed him through asphyxiation for being unfaithful to her. The name, invented by Paracelsus, derives from the Latin for “wave.”
The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present, by Ronald Hutton – This was a Christmas present, and I finally got around to reading it. That said, I have books I’ve owned for much longer and not read. It’s a scholarly work about belief in witchcraft in different societies, rather dry in style, but still interesting. It compares and contrasts fear of witches with other supernatural beliefs, like the evil eye, demons, elves, and fairies. And the changing role of religion is discussed, how some societies saw witches as worshippers of Satan, while others were less extreme. The belief that magic was opposed to religion was fairly common even before the Christian era, with Egypt being somewhat unusual in that service magic was tied in with worship of the gods, and it included compelling deities to do the magicians’ bidding. Of course, religion generally allows for good miracle workers, but this tends to be separated from magic and witchcraft, even though the results are pretty similar. Hutton mostly dismisses the idea that witchcraft derives from an ancient pagan religion.