I’m late! Sorry all, long day yesterday, I didn’t get as much done on this as I wanted to then. I’m really excited for this review though. Back when I was dealing with my being at a low point I kept putting off reading this because I adore Seanan McGuire’s writing and I didn’t want to start it only to find that I wasn’t enjoying it, like every other book I was picking up at the time. That I’ve finally read it and enjoyed it as much as I expected if not more so is a great thing for me. So, thanks to the awesome folks at Tor, here’s Down Among the Sticks and Bones. Enjoy!

Down Among the Sticks and Bones cover

Jack and Jill, sorry, Jacqueline and Jillian, were their parents’ perfect children. Jacqueline was her mother’s daughter, soft and well mannered and always dressed like a fairy princess, a pretty decoration for the society ladies to coo over. Jillian was her father’s sporty tomboy, fearless and brave and almost as good as the son he’d wanted, at least he could talk peewee sports with the guys at work. They learned early that adults couldn’t be trusted. They learned early that what’s said isn’t always what is. But they never learned to lean on each other. When they find an impossible staircase in the room their grandmother abandoned years ago what they’ve learned won’t be enough for the world they find at the bottom or the choices they’ll have to make once they’re there.

Seanan McGuire’s Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a deeply interesting thing to me. It feels like it’s nearly all character study, which I love to pieces. It’s a story about choices and at the same time a story about being shaped by circumstance. It’s a story about expectations and how being forced into them can break someone without them realizing it, but also about how jumping to escape those expectations can hurt just as much. It’s a story about sisters, twins, split by expectations and choice and circumstance.

A big thing I like about Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the way things echo down from the beginning. Jacqueline is constantly told as a young child not to get dirty, to keep her dress clean, it’s part of her mother shaping her into the perfect society daughter. Once she’s on the other side of the door Jack has a phobia of getting dirty, even after years of working with Dr. Bleak as a mad scientist’s apprentice, it still effects her. Their dad does his best to shape Jillian into the ultimate tomboy, to make up for not having a son, but kids are cruel and the boys she was friends with as a kid abandon her as expectations tell them that girls are gross and not fun. She gets to see people calling her sister the pretty one without being allowed to be anything but the tomboyish one, the trouble maker with the same face as the prettiest girl in class. So she has no support structure on our side of the door and thus, once in the Moors, Jill clings to the adult authority figure who promises her comfort and pampering. She clings to him and idolizes him even as it’s revealed that he’s not concerned with her well being. Old resentments grow into a gulf of frustrations with consequences of their own.

I do feel like, ultimately, Jack pushes the story a lot more than Jill does. It tends to happen in stories with sibling protagonists that one gets more focus than the other. That said though, that feels more like a feature than a bug here. Jack chooses to go with Dr. Bleak, so Jill is left with the Master. Jack was tired of being just pretty and so jumped at the chance to learn, while Jill was tired of feeling like second pick and decided to be whatever the Master wanted to convince him she’d chosen him. That this also gave her a chance to be the pretty one is, if not significant to the initial choice, a fantastic bonus. Jack does more in story because she chose to be Dr. Bleak’s apprentice and so works with more people. Jill is the Master’s pampered daughter and so has little she has to do, which leaves her to soak in more of how fantastic it is to be the town ruler’s child and so above it all. It can leave Jill hard to care as much about, since we see her less versus seeing Jack grow.

Another thing I want to talk about real quick is the setting. The book takes place in this sort of fairy tale world, but it’s more gothic literature than the Disney stuff most of us have grown up with. The sun is seldom out from behind the clouds and night comes far too early. The mountains are full of wolves and what lurks beneath the ever stormy sea must be placated. The Moors are a dangerous place, something that the reader is reminded of regularly, but the danger is a fact of life. People plan for it and work around it. The Master is terrifying and dangerous, but so are the things behind his city’s walls. It’s dark, but not oppressive. It’s dangerous, but not paralysingly so. It’s really well written.

I don’t have a lot of wrap up here. I adored this book. I enjoyed the characters. The setting was great. Even the stuff that bothers me works in terms of the story itself, and I’m totally going to go find the one that came before this one. It gets a five out of five and if you can find it you should give Down Among the Sticks and Bones a read.

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