Review – Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire

Laughter at the Academy
  • Writing - 10/10
  • Composition - 10/10
  • Overall - 10/10
User Review
0 (0 votes)


Author: Seanan McGuire
Pages: 376
Release Date: October 31st, 2019

From fairy tale forest to gloomy gothic moor, from gleaming epidemiologist’s lab to the sandy shores of Neverland, Seanan McGuire’s short fiction has been surprising, delighting, confusing, and transporting her readers since 2009. Now, for the first time, that fiction has been gathered together in one place, ready to be enjoyed one twisting, tangled tale at a time. Her work crosses genres and subverts expectations.

Meet the mad scientists of “Laughter at the Academy” and “The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells.” Glory in the potential of a Halloween that never ends. Follow two very different alphabets in “Frontier ABCs” and “From A to Z in the Book of Changes.” Get “Lost,” dress yourself “In Skeleton Leaves,” and remember how to fly. All this and more is waiting for you within the pages of this decade-spanning collection, including several pieces that have never before been reprinted. Stories about mermaids, robots, dolls, and Deep Ones are all here, ready for you to dive in.

This is a box of strange surprises dredged up from the depths of the sea, each one polished and prepared for your enjoyment. So take a chance, and allow yourself to be surprised.


What to Know About Laughter at the Academy

Laughter at the Academy is Seanan McGuire’s first short story collection as herself. (Mira Grant released a Newsflesh short story collection named Rise a couple of years ago.) It’s being released by Subterranean Press, which is known for doing very elegant limited print editions. I can’t speak to the elegance of this book’s print edition, since I received my review copy from NetGalley. However, my local library system has purchased some of Subterranean Press’ books in the past, so I’ll note that those books look beautiful, even though they’d passed through several hands before they got to me.

Seanan McGuire - Laughter at the AcademyUnlike Rise, this is not a short story collection that contains series works. Instead, each short story is a picture of a world we haven’t seen before (or like this, since a couple of the stories are riffs on better-known works in the public domain) or will see again. Each short story is preceded by an illustration by Carla Hall, which were still present in my eARC (albeit in black and white, though that may just be my device). I really like the illustrations and think they add to the collection as a whole.

Themes in Laughter at the Academy

The themes found in the tales in Laughter at the Academy are ones that McGuire’s fans know from her greater body of work. If you read the stories in this collection, you’ll know whether or not her longer works could be your thing. What if you don’t have an idea what Seanan McGuire’s themes are? Here’s a brief guide to some themes found in Laughter in the Academy.


I could argue that the most prominent theme in Seanan McGuire’s works is the importance of following and/or knowing the rules. If the characters don’t follow certain rules, or don’t realize what the consequences of certain rules are, they suffer greatly. On the other hand, there are characters in her works that massage the rules in a way that suits their ends, whether or not those ends are considered Good. Rules can be found in all of her major works, as they can be found in life.

This shows up in her Mira Grant work as nature, through Science, as a triumphant conqueror. In her various Mira Grant series, this is generally seen as a great tragedy: if Science didn’t work this way here, our dear protagonists would be in far less danger. This is not a problem in short stories. In them, we can watch female scientists laugh mockingly as they do what Should Not Have Been Done (watching male scientists get away with dangerous things is not new to students of history, and far more depressing).

Other Topics of Note

Seanan McGuire is also a folklore enthusiast. Some of the stories in this collection involve folklore or mythology either in the building of the story or within the text. To say more would be somewhat of a spoiler.

She also really loves Halloween, hence the release date.

Composition of Collection

I thought that this collection was composed very well. I’ve noticed that the collections of some prolific writers often order their works chronologically or by theme. That would not have worked for Laughter at the Academy well at all. Instead, McGuire picked stories that she thought made the greatest whole. The collection was put together in a way that served that whole, with no particular pattern that I detected. I really enjoyed it.


If you’re looking for an introduction to Seanan McGuire’s work, this could be a good start for you. If you’re looking to collect everything that Seanan McGuire has ever written, you don’t really need to be reading this review, but you want this book. The print copies of Laughter at the Academy are out of stock on Subterranean Press. However, this short story collection is available at an e-retailer near you.

I received this eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

Are you going to read Laughter at the Academy? What do you think about Seanan McGuire? Reach out on social media!


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About the author

Siobhan Dempsey

Siobhan needs books to function, and therefore can infodump quite a lot about them, particularly when they're either science fiction or fantasy.

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