Down Among the Sticks and Bones — Seanan McGuire

Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children, #2)

 

TITLE: Down Among the Sticks and Bones

AUTHOR: Seanan McGuire

SERIES: Wayward Children, #2

RELEASED: June 13th, 2017; Tor.com

GENRE: Fantasy

AGE RANGE: Adult

SYNOPSIS: Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

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I genuinely did not think that anything could top Every Heart a Doorway for me, and then this book came in and blew my expectations out of the water. Seanan’s writing is always masterful and poetic, but the underlying messages she wove into this novella made it even more meaningful to me.

This, you see, is the true danger of children: they are ambushes, each and every one of them.

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If you’ve read the first book in this series, you’ll recall the disastrous, eventful time we spent with the twins, Jack and Jill. In this entry, we get to revisit what happened before Nancy met them, starting before their births and leading all the way up to their exit from the Moors. Jacqueline and Jillian are the uncherished children of two busy, haughty adults who wanted dolls, not human beings. Through their upbringings and the effects their parents’ choices have upon them as teens, it feels as though the entire story’s innermost purpose is to remind the reader that children are humans, deserving of respect and love, and that forcing any child into an unsuited mold is a recipe for bleakness and tragedy.

The thought that babies would become children, and children would become people, never occurred to them. The concept that perhaps biology was not destiny, and that not all little girls would be pretty princesses, and not all little boys would be brave soldiers, also never occurred to them.

My favorite aspect of Down Among the Sticks and Bones, besides the poetic scenery Seanan creates with apparent ease, is the level of importance it places upon doing away with gender roles and expectations. As twins who are pushed into the most opposite directions possible, we see how each girl is taken so far from who she wants to be, that she will give anything to become her own, autonomous person—even at great cost.

She had tried to make sure they knew that there were a hundred, a thousand, a million different ways to be a girl, and that all of them were valid, and that neither of them was doing anything wrong.

There are some real gems in the cast of this story, though, and I’m not ashamed to admit that the sweeter moments made me cry more than once. There’s the twins’ doting grandmother, who sees the error of their parents’ ways and does everything in her power to reverse the damage. There’s Alexis, a delightful love interest who is a perfect little queer, plus size cinnamon roll. And, of course, there’s Dr. Bleak, the eccentric scientist who raises little Jack into his assistant, and who is one of the only genuinely sensible, caring beings in her world (both on Earth, and in the Moors). These novellas are full of so many complex, intricate characters with their own backstories and motives, and I constantly find myself wanting to spend more time with them. (Like, can I please get a whole novella on the feud between the Master and Dr. Bleak?)

The Moors exist in eternal twilight, in the pause between the lightning strike and the resurrection.

Lastly (but certainly not least), we get the root of the story: we learn what has happened to create the monsters within Jack and Jill, and what their motives are for the actions that conspire at the end of Every Heart a Doorway. Learning about their upbringings and the things they had done and been put through made me so much more understanding, and put the most shocking and fascinating spin on everything I thought I knew about them from the first book.

The trouble with denying children the freedom to be themselves—with forcing them into an idea of what they should be, not allowing them to choose their own paths—is that all too often, the one drawing the design knows nothing of the desires of their model. Children are not formless clay, to be shaped according to the sculptor’s whim, nor are they blank but identical dolls, waiting to be slipping into the mode that suits them best.

I know I say this about all of Seanan’s stories, but I truly cannot recommend this series highly enough. It is such a beautiful, dark, haunting, whimsical world full of paradoxes, curses and blessings, and nothing is ever exactly as it seems. I’m already dying to move on to the third installment, and so utterly delighted that she’s been signed for more books in the series, because I truly wish it would never end.

5flowers

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11 thoughts on “Down Among the Sticks and Bones — Seanan McGuire

  1. Jenna @ Falling Letters says:

    “I genuinely did not think that anything could top Every Heart a Doorway for me, and then this book came in and blew my expectations out of the water” – I 100% agree with this statement! I loved the atmosphere and characterization of this book. I would also love a novella on the Master and Dr Bleak.

    Like

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