Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire is a prequel novella to the wonderful Every Heart a Doorway, which I read last year. The two novellas stand alone entirely, aside from being set in the same world. Having read Every Heart a Doorway first, I had some notion of where the protagonists of Down Among the Sticks and Bones would end up, but not exactly how they got there.

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.

Part of the initial premise for this story, aside from the portal fantasy aspect, is that their parents decide, before getting to know them at all, what kind of children they'll be. Instead of allowing them to choose their interests, they have interests thrust upon them. And it is horrific. Horrific enough that when they find themselves in a world of vampires, necromancer science and werewolves, both of them would prefer to stay than go home.

I admit it took me a little bit of reading to really remember Jack and Jill from Every Heart a Doorway (and even now I'm still a little hazy, without having reread it), and before I remembered what I already knew of their story, I was half expecting this to be a trans narrative. It is not. It is a story about how to be a girl, and how there's no wrong way to do so.

Despite being about siblings called Jack and Jill, there's not much of the nursery rhyme in this portal fantasy. It's fantastical and bleak and grim and wonderful. This did not stop the nursery rhyme from running through my head every so often while I was reading, so beware. ;-p

I loved Every Heart a Doorway and I loved Down Among the Sticks and Bones almost as much. I will be happily reading any further stories McGuire writes in this world (a third novella has already been announced, whoo!). I highly recommend it to all fans of fantasy, especially portal fantasy.

5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2017, Tor.com
Series: Wayward Children, second published but standalone
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via Netgalley

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