Down Among Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire – Dark, brutal, sad – exactly what I hoped for

Summary:

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.

I received an eARC from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

My review:

When I listened to the audiobook for Every Heart a Doorway earlier this year, I fell in love with the idea of taking an idea we were all familiar with (children venturing to other worlds by going through doors) and showing their aftermath. In contrast, Down Among Sticks and Bones offers a ‘prequel’, if you will, to Every Heart a Doorway. Rather than the aftermath, we see the making.

Some adventures require nothing more than a willing heart and the ability to trip over the cracks in the world.

Down Among Sticks and Bones centers on twins Jacqueline and Jillian, or Jack and Jill. The story begins before they are born; we see Jack and Jill’s parents, the sort of people they were, illustrating that, maybe, our destinies are in the making before it is ever in our hands. Through their upbringing, we witness their childhood and how their parents imposed strict gender roles for their own selfish desires and dreams and largely at Jack and Jill’s expense. (A reoccurring theme in the first half of the book is that adults cannot be trusted. And indeed, they cannot.) At this, Down Among Sticks and Bones briefly explores the harm that parents can unwittingly cause; it is a narrative that is not new but is still all the more heartbreaking. But, that is, until they discover a door.

When reading Every Heart a Doorway, I was curious about the adventure of discovering a door and the process of making a home within the world on the other side. Down Among Sticks and Bones satiated my curiosity, and there was no better world than The Moors, an unforgiving, brutal, and monstrous place. The worldbuilding was fantastic – not only in its construction, but also in its impact on the reader. Being in the Moors, or, reading about Jack and Jill in The Moors, elicited a perpetual sense of dread and promises of foreboding. In such a cold and horrifying place, it may seem strange that Jack and Jill carve a corner of this world for themselves. Did The Moors make Jack and Jill for who they would become, or were they fulfilling their destinies?

The Moors exist in eternal twilight, in the pause between the lightning strike and the resurrection. They are a place of endless scientific experimentation, of monstrous beauty, and of terrible consequences.

Indeed, it is presumably a scary place for children, but it is within the Moors that Jacqueline becomes Jack and Jill becomes Jillian. Reading this, I couldn’t decide whether it was a cruel twist of fate or irony: two children who have been forced into rigid squares of what it means to be, only to discover a place where they can live the life they want, and in ways that were unexpected but also made complete sense. Suffice it to say, the characterizations of the story were fantastic. Despite the story’s short length, McGuire’s characters may seem like caricatures – the ‘mad scientist’, the evil vampire lord, the terrified townspeople. However, as the story progresses, each character reveals more of themselves beyond what is on the surface: that, despite the roles they place, the characters are capable of empathy, justice, betrayal, and love. You may not find thoroughly developed characters, with the exception of Jack, but you will find very interesting ones.

While Every Heart a Doorway was, at times, whimsical with hints of mystery and horror, Down Among Sticks and Bones is very dark, very brutal, and, in a way, very sad. Nonetheless, Down Among Sticks and Bones is a fantastic novella, a great addition to the Wayward Children series and universe, and one that I wholeheartedly recommend to those who enjoyed Every Heart a Doorway.

Rating: 4/5

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | My review on Goodreads


Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: Twins enter through a mysterious door, and find themselves in a horror-esque place called The Moors.

Perfect for: Readers who enjoyed Every Heart a Doorway, enjoy horror, eerie stories, and whimsical storytelling.

Genre: Young adult, horror, paranormal-fantasy.

Recommended? Yes!

Possible trigger warnings: death, murder, blood mentions.


Let’s discuss!

  • Have you read Every Heart a Doorway, or Down Among Sticks and Bones? What did you think?
  • Who was your favourite character and why?
  • Would you rather your master be a vampire or a scientist?
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19 thoughts on “Down Among Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire – Dark, brutal, sad – exactly what I hoped for

    • Hello Sofii!
      Yes, it’s fantastic. Much darker than Every Heart a Doorway (though there were some very graphic parts), but it has its own unique tone that fits Jack and Jill’s story perfectly.
      Right?! The cover is gorgeous. Have you seen the cover for the third book? :D I love that one a lot.

  1. Oh I cannot WAIT to read this. I adored Every Heart a Doorway (definitely satisfies the part of me still obsessed with Alice in Wonderland) and Seanan McGuire has such a captivating way of writing. It should arrive soon and then I’ll be reading it for sure :)

    • Hi Emily!
      I adored it too, and I think this is a very good addition to the series. She certainly has a fantastic way of writing – I totally agree! If I recall correctly, Down Among Sticks and Bones breaks the fourth wall much more than Every Heart a Doorway, and I enjoyed that a lot!
      I hope you enjoy it when you read it – looking forward to your thoughts!

  2. Wonderful review as always CW! I haven’t read Every Heart a Doorway yet but it sounds amazing. Will definitely be picking this up next. Should I start with Down Among Sticks and Bones since it serves as a prequel or should I read Every Heart A Doorway first?

    • Hello Tanaz! I’m so sorry for my very late reply.
      Thank you so much! 💛 I definitely think you should read Every Heart a Doorway first, which will make Down Among Sticks and Bones a little more fascinating. I hope you enjoy EHAD! It’s great, albeit dark, but it’s such a fantastic read.

  3. I loved this one so much! I think I enjoyed EHAD a little bit more because magical school!!!! but the discussion in this about how harmful gender roles can be when forced on people was so important. I loved the setting and how atmospheric it was. Great review, CW! Glad you enjoyed this one too :D

    • Hi Lauren! I’m so sorry for my very late reply!
      Fair enough!! I think, in the end, I enjoyed EHAD a little more too, but Jack and Jill were my FAVES (well, more Jack than Jill, haha) so I loved that there was a book about their story.

      Thanks so much Lauren! I’m glad you enjoyed this one too. 💛

  4. I have been meaning to read Every Heart a Doorway! This makes me want to even more. I have been reading a lot of YA contemporaries and literary fiction lately, and I’ve been looking for something totally fantastical to get obsessed with. I find it more difficult to get into fantasy books because so many of them are just set around a romantic relationship I don’t care about. But! This sounds like a world I could get seriously into.

    • Hi Lydia! I’m so sorry for my very late reply.
      I think you’ll quite like Every Heart a Doorway, especially if you like something a little magical but a little darker and eerie. There are elements of horror, but they’re reasonably mild (if I remember correctly) and the writing is lovely.

      Ooh I get you! Well, Every Heart a Doorway doesn’t have a romance! It’s character-driven and the plot is super good too.

  5. Lovely review! I have read Every Heart a Doorway and unfortunately didn’t fall in love with it – I think the horror side kind of made it hard for me to enjoy it so much, as it is not a genre I usually fall for. I really loved how original and unique the story felt, though. So glad you enjoyed that one :)

    • Thanks so much Marie!
      That’s totally fair enough. I think if the horror wasn’t up your alley, then Down Among Sticks and Bones may not be your thing because I found it more eerie and a little more bloody. I love the story too – maybe Book 3 won’t be as bloody or dark? *fingers crossed*!

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