Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Down Among the Sticks and BonesDown Among the Sticks and Bones

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children, #2

Hardcover, 187 pg.
Tor, 2017

Read: June 14, 2017

Some adventures begin easily. It is not hard, after all, to be sucked up by a tornado or pushed through a particularly porous mirror; there is no skill involved in being swept away by a great wave or pulled down a rabbit hole. Some adventures require nothing more than a willing heart and the ability to trip over the cracks in the world.

This is the story about how Jack and Jill, the twins in the middle of the events in Every Heart a Doorway, got to The Moors, the dark world they had their adventures in before being returned to ours.

They were born to people that never should have had kids, had miserable childhoods (not that they realized it) — with two bright spots. The lesser, but more constant, bright spot was each other — they always had their twin. Just before this relationship was torn apart by the ways their parents were dividing them, the find themselves in a magic kingdom. They’re split up again, but this time the lifestyles they are immersed in better fit their personalities than what had been imposed on them by the World’s Worst Parents. Jack is trained by a mad scientist, learning to deliver medical care, reanimate the dead and more. Jill is pampered by a vampire that rules The Moors — being coached and guided into becoming one herself. We see them grow into strong individuals in this dark and deadly place before being returned to Earth.

The story is one we know already (assuming we read the first book), and even without that, it’s pretty clear how things are going to go. But that doesn’t make this any less gripping — the character work, the development of these two girls is fantastic. And the world created in The Moors is fantastic, you can see it — practically smell, feel and taste it. Best of all is the way that McGuire tells the story, the way she describes things (emotions, internal actions, external actions). It’s almost as magical as the first book.

It’s not a perfect novella, however. I’d have been tempted to call the previous one perfect, but this doesn’t quite make it. It seemed like half-story, half-manifesto against the kind of parenting McGuire hates.

This, you see, is the true danger of children: they are ambushes, each and every one of them. A person may look at someone else’s child and see only the surface, the shiny shoes or the perfect curls. They do not see the tears and the tantrums, the late nights, the sleepless hours, the worry. They do not even see the love, not really. It can be easy, when looking at children from the outside, to believe that they are things, dolls designed and programmed by their parents to behave in one manner, following one set of rules. It can be easy, when standing on the lofty shores of adulthood, not to remember that every adult was once a child, with ideas and ambitions of their own.

It can be easy, in the end, to forget that children are people, and that people will do what people will do, the consequences be damned.

It’s McGuire’s book, I’m not saying she shouldn’t feel free to use the space the way she wants — but it detracted from the story. Their parents have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, McGuire’s usually better than that. I think you could make the case that their shallowness, their utter horribleness fits the fairy-tale-ish story she’s telling. Honestly, I think that was the case — but it just doesn’t feel right. I would’ve like a little more time with the vampire himself — although maybe not getting more time with him, and learning about him primarily from the way that others react to him and his actions does make him creepier.

I was hoping (but didn’t expect) to see a little about what happened to the pair after Every Heart, oh well — hopefully soon.

I thought it a little heavy-handed in some places, but overall, I was just so happy to return to this series that I can get past it and recommend this one almost as highly as the last one.


4 Stars


Lowering Expectations

When I get home from work today, my copy of Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire should be waiting for me, I’ve been eagerly waiting for this book for about a year now.

I know (well, I fear) that it won’t be as good as Every Heart a Doorway — it can’t be.

That doesn’t mean it won’t be good, just not as good. As long as I remember that, I won’t be disappointed. Which is my biggest fear.

Am I the only one who plays mind-games like this?

Every Heart a Doorway (Audiobook) by Seanan McGuire, Cynthia Hopkins

Every Heart a Doorway (Audiobook) Every Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire, Cynthia Hopkins (Narrator)
Series: Wayward Children, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 4 hrs., 44 min.
2016, Macmillan Audio

Read: November 17 – 18, 2016

When I get to considering my favorites of 2016, there’s no way that Every Heart a Doorway doesn’t make the Top 10 (see my initial post), so when I saw it available on the library’s audiobook site when I needed something to end the week with, I grabbed it, certain I was going to have a lot of fun.

Wow, was that a mistake. The story was just as good, the characters as rich, the world(s) just as fascinating — the writing, the wordplay, the language . . . it was just as good as I remembered. But man, the narration just didn’t work for me at all. The book is creepy, funny, spooky, beautiful — and remains so despite the narration. The jokes don’t land, most of the characters seem to lack affect. Actually, I have a list of problems, but I don’t want to get nasty, so I’ll just leave it at that.

I did pick up a bit of a William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus”-vibe towards the end this time that I hadn’t picked up the first time — but I still like it, regardless. I noticed more details, and appreciated the examination of the ideas of what’s home and what’s real maybe a little more this time, so it wasn’t a wasted effort. But it was a disappointing one.

I do want to make it clear that I don’t think Hopkins couldn’t turn in a good performance — I don’t have enough information to say that. I do think that she was wrong for this project, didn’t understand it, or had an off day. I’m not sure. But a novella as exceptionally good as Every Heart a Doorway deserves the best, and this wasn’t it. So for this audiobook (not the text version), I’ve gotta go with 4 stars (and even that feels a little generous).


4 Stars

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a DoorwayEvery Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children, #1

Hardcover, 169 pg., 2016

Read: April 16, 2016

“. . . we went through. We came out on this moor that seemed to go on forever, between the mountains and the angry sea. And that sky! I’d never seen so many stars before, or such a red, red moon. The door slammed shut behind us. We couldn’t have gone back if we’d wanted to — and we didn’t want to. We were twelve. We are going to have an adventure if it killed us.”

“Did you? asked Nancy. “Have an adventure, I mean?”

“Sure,” said Jack bleakly. “It didn’t even kill us. Not permanently anyway. But it changed everything.”

One of my favorite book bloggers to read (and not just because our tastes are similar) began his take on Every Heart a Doorway by saying:

Sometimes we either meet a book (or a novella, in this case,) that is precisely the right fit for your soul, (at the moment,) or just happens to be original enough right when you need it, that it fills your life and your mind with brightness and joy.

For me, this is one of those pieces. To muddy the waters even more, I’m an unabashed fan of the author and I’m likely to pick up all of her writings without even checking the subject matter because I simply trust the woman to steer me to any shore.

If I didn’t start off by quoting that, I’d end paraphrasing/plagiarizing it.

So here’s the deal in a world where portal fantasies are possible, and children all over the world are going through them — à la Lucy Pevensie et al., Dorothy Gale, September, Quentin Coldwater, Alice, Jason Walker, etc. — and, sadly (?) most of these children end up back home. Some of them are glad to be back in this world and want to put their adventures behind them — a lot of them don’t want to be here anymore and want to return to wherever it was they went. Both kinds of children have a hard time coping in this world and need help. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is for the latter kind.

Nancy is a girl recently returned, and is very different than the girl her parents have been missing. They want her fixed, they want their daughter back — not whoever this person is with different attitudes, actions, clothes, etc. — West doesn’t promise that (but she may have allowed them to think she’ll do that, just so she can help Nancy), but she can help Nancy adjust to this world. So she joins the small student body at the private school/treatment center. The last thing Nancy wants is to be fixed, to be that girl again — which just means she fits in here, with returned kids from all over the country, who’ve been in all sorts of worlds. As Nancy begins to understand the nature of these other worlds, the effects they have on children, and why many of them want to leave again, so do we.

It turns out, all of the residents of West’s Home are going to learn that you can have plenty of adventures here, too. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

I really liked all of these children — the adults we met, too, actually — Jack in particular. But every one of them — even the less-than-nice ones — are great characters and I’d have gladly spent another 200 pages with them, easy.

The writing is incredible — not that I’ve ever had any real problems with McGuire before, but she kicked it up a notch here — and is writing a different kind of story than I’m used to, so she writes differently. This book took me longer to read than it should’ve, because I had to go back and reread several sentences/lines/paragraphs — not because I needed to read them again for clarification, but because they were so perfect, so quotable, so . . . something. I’m not going to start quoting beyond what I opened with, because I don’t know if I could stop — Laura got two of them I made notes about. You could literally be amused, melancholy, horrified, feeling whimsy, and nervous within a couple of paragraphs — only to turn the page and start all over again. Not because she was jerking you around or anything, it’s just that kind of story, that kind of playing with language, just that kind of broken reality.

McGuire gave us such a satisfying ending — complete, tidy, fitting, bittersweet, heartwarming — and then I read another paragraph or so, and it’s so much better (and all of the above to the next degree) once you got to the actual ending. Then I closed the book and I teared up a little — for no reason at all, really, but it felt really appropriate.

Can I say this is positively Gaiman-esque without making it sound like McGuire’s derivative in any way? I don’t want to even hint at suggesting that — but man, if you like Neil Gaiman’s stuff — get this. If you’ve ever read a portal fantasy and wondered what happened to the kids afterwards– get this. If you like things that are good, and don’t mind magic in your reading — get this.


5 Stars