top of page

Beneath the Sugar Sky

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

Beneath the Sugar Sky book on a bed of blue and pink cotton candy scattered with candy corn, plus two lemon cookies and a slice of colorful cake

For some people, doors are just doors. For others, they open new, fantastical worlds. Sometimes people go through doors to magical places and find where they actually belong. Sometimes people accidentally come back. For those that do, Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children is a place where they can heal and hope and maybe find their way back home.

Eleanor walks the halls of her school, longing for the day she can finally go back through her door into her world of Nonsense. Angela keeps her special shoes slung over her shoulder, ready for a rainbow to touch the ground close enough for her to run along it. Christopher plays his bone flute, hoping that on the next Day of the Dead, his Skeleton Girl will welcome him home. Kade keeps an eye on everything going on at the school, knowing one day it will be his to manage. Ever since Lundy died, Kade has stepped into the role of second in command and while Eleanor wishes he could just be a kid, she knows he'll be taking over one day, so he might as well start working now.

Cora steps out of her room and nearly right into Eleanor. She's new to the school and from a water world where her jewel-toned blue and green hair blends in with the tropical fish she used to swim with. Eleanor asks how she's doing, and Cora talks about meeting the other girls, some of whom also came from water worlds. It seems she's getting along just fine. At her old school, Cora was the fat girl but in her world, her size kept her warm in the frigid waters and she was able to swim faster and farther than everyone else. Here at Eleanor’s no one made fun of her for her size and no one made fun of her new best friend Nadya for only having one arm. They decide to go to the turtle pond because they both came from watery places and Nadya loves to chase after the turtles, wanting them to love her and treat her as their queen. This visit to the turtle pond is different though. A girl falls from the sky and lands right in the middle, sending turtles flying.

The girl seems to be about seventeen and is wearing a dress made of a hot pink wedding cake. As her dress dissolves in the pond water, she finally yells for Cora and Nadya to take her to their leader, but she doesn't mean Eleanor, she means her mother, Sumi. Uh oh. Sumi is dead. Cora takes off running for the school but accidentally crashes into Christopher who takes her to see Eleanor and Kade. They both quickly explain what has happened and Kade goes with them to the turtle pond while Eleanor puts her head in her hands. There was a prophecy in Sumi's world of Confection that said she would return and defeat the Countess of Candy Floss and become a benevolent monarch, but since she died, it's possible that the prophecy is crumbling.

Kade, Christopher and Cora rejoin Nadya and the unashamedly naked stranger who is quite pleased with the appearance of her vagina. Kade offers the girl, named Rini, assistance and clothes, but she claims to not have time for any of that and demands to see her mother, who is definitely Sumi for the two look exactly alike, except that Rini has candy corn eyes, yellow, orange and white, which must have come from Sumi's true love, the candy corn farmer. Rini shows the group her hand, which is missing two fingers, but not from damage or anything. They've vanished. She appears to be Back-to-the-Futuring.

The group gets Rini dressed marvelously in mismatched rainbows and ribbons and they go talk to Eleanor, who unfortunately tells Rini that dead is dead so there's nothing they can do. Cora asks how she got there and after an awkward explanation of sex and being born, Cora says she meant how did Rini come to land in their turtle pond. She was given a bracelet by the Fondant Wizard that allows her to travel anywhere there is sugar. This gives Christopher an idea. 

Christopher takes the group down to the basement room that used to be Jack and Jill's before they went back to the Moors, then Nancy's before she went back to the Halls of the Dead. All the things Jack and Jill had, aka Jack's mad scientist preservation liquids, were still in there, so after a night of bad dreams, Christopher dug up Sumi’s hands in the hopes of reuniting them with her body that her parents took away and buried. He thinks that they might be able to travel to Nancy's world to find out where ghosts go and then use his bone flute to resurrect Sumi and bring her back. It's nonsense, so it might actually work.

Kade drives the school minivan to the cemetery six hours away where Sumi was buried and Christopher plays his bone flute to summon her skeleton from the earth. It works beautifully and, though Christopher wishes he could summon all the skeletons and have a dance party under the moonlight, that's not what they're here for now. Cora dumps Sumi’s hands from their jar and Christopher plays them from their flesh and reattaches them to Sumi's skeleton. Afterward, they tell Rini as much as they can about Nancy and where she lives and she bites a bead from her bracelet, opens a door, and they all walk through into the pomegranate grove in the Halls of the Dead.

After wandering for a bit, the group is approached by the Lady of the Dead. Kade tells her they are there to see Nancy so she takes them to see her. She talks to Christopher about Mariposa, his world of skeletons, and Nadya about Belyyreka, her drowned world, which isn't an Underworld but it is under the world, so it's quite close. The Lady leads the five people and one skeleton to a dais with living statues standing on pedestals atop it, one of whom is Nancy. The Lady asks her to move to greet her visitors.

Nancy slowly and smoothly steps out of her near statue form to greet Kade, Christopher and Nadya, though she also acknowledges Cora, Rini and the skeleton of Sumi. They explain why they are there, to see if Sumi's ghost is there and Nancy says she might be and takes them to a room glittering with ghosts. They swarm around Sumi’s skeleton but then Nancy says if her ghost is there, they have to call to it, so Christopher, not knowing if it will work, plays his flute. Sumi’s ghost appears, but it is just a shadow, not her true self. Nancy explains that a body is made of skeleton and skin, soul and shadow, and now they have two pieces, but she has no idea how to get the other two, but she does know that a person will eventually return to where they're supposed to be when they die. As they turn to leave, the Lord of the Dead stops them. They cannot take someone from the Halls of the Dead without leaving someone in return.

As Kade steps up to tell the Lord of the Dead that he and his friends aren't for sale, Nadya interrupts and volunteers to stay behind. She asks the Lord of the Dead if her door to Belyyreka were to open, would he let her leave and he says that he would. Nadya has been at Eleanor West's School for Wayward Children for four years, so it doesn't seem like she's going to get her door if she continues to stay there. Cora is upset because Nadya is her only friend, which is even more reason for Nadya to leave so Cora will make new friends, which is always difficult for Cora because she thinks everyone is always judging her for being overweight. Nadya’s mind made up, Nancy shows her to a river they have in the Halls of the Dead while Rini bites another bead off her bracelet. The group, now without Nadya, falls through the floor and into Confection.

They land in an ocean of strawberry rhubarb soda and Cora, though not loving the sugary stickiness of it, does love being in the ocean again. Everyone bobs back to the surface, even Sumi's bones, except for Christopher. Cora swims down down down in the soda sea and sees him sinking to the bottom, so she dolphin swims to rescue him. She brings him to the shore made of graham cracker and cake crumbs and resuscitates him. Rini is surprised that they can't breathe in the soda sea and is happy she's not from a world like that. Cora thinks that sometimes you have to do what you have to do, then she remembers pills and drowning, but now she's here and has just saved her friend. The group travels through Confection in hopes of finding Sumi's Sumi-ness but instead they find an army.

The army belongs to the Queen of Cakes and they take the group to a large castle where they meet the Queen. She is perfectly dreadful but the group finds out that she, like Sumi, traveled through a doorway into Confection. She is intrigued by Sumi's skeleton, pleased that her enemy is very clearly dead. She sees that Rini is disappearing and tells the rest that when she disappears completely, they will be able to stay forever, which none of them want. The Queen then takes Christopher’s bone flute and tries to play it. He freaks out, which the Queen enjoys, and we learn that the bone is his own and his Skeleton Girl replaced it with another, so it's very important that he gets it back. He had cancer and the Skeleton Girl saved him by removing the bone, but now, without it, he might die. The Queen doesn't care about this at all and tells her army to lock the group away, all except for Sumi's skeleton, which she wants to play with.

Cora, Kade, Christopher and Rini are taken to a cell in a tall tower. Christopher is very clearly about to die without his flute and Rini is feeling very sorry for herself and for dragging them all to Confection. She's decided that the world is rewriting itself so that the Queen of Cakes was always there and her family never was and there's nothing anyone can do about it. Cora disagrees. She asks Kade about what he did in his world and he tells her that he killed the Goblin King and became the Goblin Prince, so she knows he can fight if necessary. She devises a plan.

Cora and Kade move Christopher to the middle of the cell and then she pries a baked brick out of the wall. Kade hides behind the door with the cookie brick while Cora screams for the guards, telling them they need Christopher's flute. When the guard comes in, Kade bashes him with the brick and Rini kicks him for good measure, but he doesn't fight back and doesn't seem to want to be involved at all, so maybe Rini was right and the world is trying to correct itself. Kade takes his armor and then marches Cora to see the Queen while Rini stays behind to deal with the guard and keep watch over Christopher. 

When they see the Queen, Cora pretends to turn on her friends and tells the Queen she wants to be like her. The Queen thinks that Cora, as overweight as she is, wanted to come eat herself to death in Confection, but that's not true at all. Still Cora pretends to respect the Queen, but then Kade surprise attacks her, making her give up Christopher's flute. The other guards in the room don't do anything because they realize that they're not really supposed to be there at all. Cora unties Sumi and Kade drags the Queen away, back to the cell. Cora gives Christopher his flute and they decide not to kill the Queen, but to tie her up and leave her in the cell instead. Maybe no one will come rescue her and she'll die. They don't care at all.

They escape the castle and head toward Rini’s family home. She's sure her father will know what to do because he always knows what to do. As they walk, Kade, Christopher and Cora have a really confusing, headache-inducing conversation about doors and worlds to places and worlds from places and how some intersect and some do not, but then they finally arrive at Rini's father's candy corn farm. Unfortunately Ponder, Rini's dad, doesn't know anything about bringing Sumi's nonsense heart back to her body, but maybe the Baker will know. Ponder gives them provisions and sends them on their way.

Rini is nervous about meeting the Baker because her timeline is all mixed up. If the Baker, who Cora kind of freaks out about meeting, too, because the Baker is essentially God of Confection, brings Sumi back, will Rini go back to herself or will she continue disappearing because now she's older than her mom and her dad would never take a child bride? Kade is certain that everything will work out, but Rini's not so sure. After nearly a day's worth of walking, because that's how long it takes to get anywhere in Confection, the group arrives at what looks to be a junkyard for thousands of failed kitchen experiments. They've made it to the Baker.

The Baker is a teenage girl from Brooklyn in a hijab who loves to bake. One day, a door opened for her and brought her to Confection, and now she bakes the world. She sees Rini and Sumi and praises Rini for bringing Sumi back to them, but when asked if she can bring back Sumi's nonsense and make her whole again, she didn't think so. She's never done anything like that before! They ask her to try, so… she does. She mixes up all sorts of delicious treats like Rice Krispy treat muscles, yellow cake fatty tissue, sugar cookie organs, fondant skin and black cotton candy hair. She builds a cake version of Sumi and, with help from Kade and Cora, loads it into the oven. Now, they have to hope and wait. 

While Sumi is baking, Kade introduces himself to the Baker and asks her name, which is Layla. Christopher asks if she's religious because of her hijab and if she's okay with being a god, but Layla says she's not a god, she's a baker and whether she is here in Confection or back in Brooklyn, she'll still be a baker. Cora asks a question that's been worrying Rini and has a very confusing answer. If this works and Sumi returns to normal, will Rini still be born? Layla says yes. Sumi will go with them through their door and come back to Confection in a little while and that she, Layla, doesn't arrive until a year after Sumi returns. Time doesn't work the same way through the doors, obviously. Kade wonders if he can go back home and find the younger version of Layla on the Internet, but she begs him not to because that didn't happen in her time and if something messed up and she wasn't able to get her door, well, things would be bad. With that, the timer dings. It's time to take Sumi out of the oven.

Everyone, minus Rini because of her mostly missing hands, helps to pull Sumi from the oven. She looks real! Layla assures them everything worked perfectly because Confection wanted Sumi to return. If it didn't, Sumi's cake would be a melted mess because you definitely aren't supposed to bake cotton candy or fondant or lots of other other things Layla used to create her. They must wait for her to cool and when it's finally time, Rini tells Sumi about her adventure to bring her home. At the end of the tale, Rini asks her mother to wake up so she can meet her, and she does. Sumi is back! And so is Rini! Layla bakes a door for Sumi, Cora, Christopher and Kade so they can go back home.

Eleanor is so happy to have Sumi back, and the others too, but wonders what happened to Nadya. They tell her everything that happened on their journey, but they don't know about Nadya. Nadya sat by the river in the Halls of the Dead, petting turtles, longing for her Drowned World where she is a Drowned Girl. She reaches down with a hand that shouldn't be there and skips a rock, then she looks down, startled. When she lived in Belyyreka, her forearm and hand that had been missing since she was born was replaced with one made of beautiful clear water, and now that hand is back, and so is her door. She scoops up a tiny turtle friend and jumps through the door, back to Belyyreka, back to her home.

12 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page