I love portal fantasies. I’ve loved them for as long as I can remember, from Narnia to Oz to Wonderland to Amber and even for a brief moment Xanth, I have loved stories of someone from this mundane world transported to a world full of magic and wonder. Summer in Orcus is an offering in this category from T. Kingfisher, aka Ursula Vernon, and it is marvelous. The best I can describe it is a middlegrade fantasy for adults, and much like Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (which is a similarly a middlegrade fantasy for adults), it makes for wonderful reading. I don’t know how it will be received by children or pre-adolescents, but this adult loved every moment spent reading it.
Summer is the daughter of an anxiety-ridden mother, and so spends most of her time at home being warned about the various potential dangers of mundane household items. In addition, when she isn’t being warned away from splashing in puddles (you could get sick from the germs, and you don’t know how deep that puddle goes) she listens to and comforts her mother and thus Summer is a very grown-up eleven year old. Which is why, when Baba Yaga comes to offer Summer her heart’s desire, she takes a very grown-up moment to think about it. Then, without really knowing what that heart’s desire is, Baba Yaga sends her off to Orcus with a talking weasel to find her own way. It’s utterly glorious. Kingfisher has a deep practical nature that she melds with her wild flights of fantasy to create a world where events follow logically, but also contains a talking hoopoe in a waistcoat and a were-house (a wolf who turns into a cottage at night).
I loved this; I loved every single second of it.