Available: Hardcover, Kindle edition, audiobook
Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a companion novella to Seanan McGuire’s award-winning novella Every Heart a Doorway. Every Heart a Doorway explored the question of what happens after children who walk through a door to a fantasy world return to our own. In that novella, the main character was sent to a boarding school specifically for children who have returned, to help them readjust. It’s a spare, magical, heartbreaking, and brutal mystery that explores identity, destiny, and desire in multiple ways.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the story of Jack and Jill, twins who play major roles in Every Heart a Doorway, and their lives in the world they walked into. The girls escaped a life of strictly enforced gender roles by entering a door to a world with many dangers called “The Moors.” There, the girls are able to discard their parents’ expectations, although they are shaped by new ones. Unfortunately, what the girls’ parents wanted for them affected not just their outward actions, but their interior thoughts and emotions, so the characters are very flat. Jack has a little more self-awareness and develops a genuine loving relationship with another girl, so her character is slightly more developed. The story is more of a fable than a work requiring deep character development, but it means the reader feels much less invested.
In Every Heart a Doorway, Jack and Jill are a mysterious and disturbing pair, but Down Among the Sticks and Bones dispels a lot of that mystery, in the process making their actions, or lack of them, more explicable and sympathetic. The story also lacks tension: it’s the story of growing up over time, and doesn’t have the urgency or bloodiness of the mystery in the earlier novella (this isn’t to say it lacks blood and gore: in a Gothic world of vampires and mad scientists, there’s always going to be blood and gore, but I feel like it’s dialed down in this story).
Seanan McGuire is a fantastic writer, and I’m glad she wrote this second novella, because almost the first thing I wanted to know after finishing Every Heart a Doorway was Jack and Jill’s story. Despite the events of Down Among the Sticks and Bones taking place first, though, and although it can stand alone, readers should read Every Heart a Doorway first, to prevent spoilers and preserve its suspense and wonder. Recommended.
Contains: murder, gore.