Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the second novella in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series. The first, Every Heart a Doorway, took me utterly by surprise when I first read it, and I loved it. It was a touching, gentle story about children and teens who had once been whisked through magical doorways to fairytale lands, only to be returned. Jack and Jill while only side characters in the original, had potentially one of the more intriguing backstories, and I was quite excited to hear that the follow up would be expanding on the time they spent in the gothic world of The Moors
Unfortunately, while Down Among the Sticks and Bones is still quite a good novella, it has not lived up to my expectations
I’ll start with the positive: one of the biggest strengths of this novella is how it plays with the way peoples expectations can affect identity. For Jacqueline and Jillian (never Jack and Jill at this young age), there are no greater expectations to live up to than those set up by their parents. And the twin’s parents are awful. Both of them are narcissists who view their children as a means to improve their social standing. They employ heavy-handed methods to mould the girls into specific social roles – the bold tomboy and the more demure, delicate daughter. Overly socially conscious and WASPy parents mightn’t make the most obviously evil characters, but the damage they do to their daughters is immense. The roles they impose grate hard against the girls own natures, and this results in a mutual envy that drives the two apart.
When the twins stumble through the door that leads them to the Moors, they are given something that their parents never really offered – choice. Jack chooses to join Dr Bleak in his windmill laboratory, where she can engage her scientific mind. Jill chooses to serve The Master, a maleficent, (but flatly characterised) vampire.
In the first half of the novel, the motivations of the twins and their respective choices are well telegraphed by their parent’s treatment of them. You understand why they behave the way they do once they stumble into the Moors. I can’t say the same after the time skip. The main reason I was looking forward to reading this novella was I wanted to know how the twins came to be how they were in Every Heart a Doorway, but it feels that any development they had one they started living in the moors has been rushed over. Jill especially, cops this rather badly. It also, unfortunately, affects the way I think about the role Jack plays in the first book
The other thing I wasn’t keen on is the change in narrative style. The narration used is an omnipresent and storybook-esque, with a tendency to over-explain. It made me feel as if some of the plot points were being drilled into me. It does make Down amount the Sticks and Bones more distinct from Every Heart a Doorway, but it didn’t really work for me.
So I’m giving Down Among the Sticks and Bones 2.5 stars. It’s a pity that it didn’t live up to my expectations, but I’m still keen to continue reading the series. (I’ve read a sample chapter of the next book, and it returns to the same narrative style as Every Heart a Doorway, so that’s a positive!)