This book explores the origin story of Jack and Jill, twin sisters from Every Heart a Doorway. The novella starts from pre-birth all the way through Jack and Jill finding and then fleeing The Moors. Along the way we meet the worst parents in the world who didn’t want children but wanted a perfect photograph of children; The Master, a vampire who rules the Moors; Dr. Bleak, mad scientist who pushes the boundaries of science going so far as to raise the dead; and many of the townspeople just trying to survive a harsh living environment.
McGuire did a great job of setting up characters through little moments/interactions with parents. McGuire writes in a conversational tone that made me feel like narrator and I were just friends chatting about these two young girls. And the narrator’s insights into how parents raise children and the bizarre focus on image and appearance in the suburbs were funny and often very biting. I wanted to shake those parents’ shoulders and scream at them to see their children, but alas. They are fictional.
The first novella in this series was much more violent and macabre despite this book being set in a violent and macabre world. There are violent acts in Down Among the Sticks and Bones however the violence is somewhat skated over compared to Every Heart a Doorway. Dr. Bleak was present throughout the novella. However, we are told that Dr. Bleak was a mad scientist who dealt with the grotesque and macabre in the first book, but his experiments were rather tame in this novella. And the Master was oddly absent. He was there when the twins first arrived in the Moors, but then his presence is never really felt once Jack decides to leave the castle.
Overall, this was not what I was expecting. Rather than a tale of survival and horror, Maguire delivers a character study on the role that adults play on raising children and the bond between sisters.