Winner: 2018 Alex Award
Winner: 2018 ALA RUSA Fantasy Award
Seanan McGuire returns to her popular Wayward Children series with Down Among the Sticks and Bonesa truly standalone story suitable for adult and young adult readers of urban fantasy, and the follow-up to the Alex, Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Award-winning, World Fantasy Award finalist, Tiptree Honor List book Every Heart a Doorway
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 daughterpolite 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 daughteradventurous, 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.
The Wayward Children Series
Book 1: Every Heart a Doorway
Book 2: Down Among the Sticks and Bones
Book 3: Beneath the Sugar Sky
Book 4: In an Absent Dream
About the Author
SEANAN McGUIRE is the author of the October Daye urban fantasy series, the InCryptid series, the Wayward Children series, and other works. She also writes darker fiction as Mira Grant.
Seanan lives in Seattle with her cats, a vast collection of creepy dolls, and horror movies, and sufficient books to qualify her as a fire hazard.
She was the winner of the 2010 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and in 2013 she became the first person ever to appear five times on the same Hugo ballot.
Read an Excerpt
Down Among the Sticks and Bones
By Seanan McGuire, Lee Harris
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2017 Seanan McGuire
All rights reserved.
THE DANGEROUS ALLURE OF OTHER PEOPLE'S CHILDREN
PEOPLE WHO KNEW Chester and Serena Wolcott socially would have placed money on the idea that the couple would never choose to have children. They were not the parenting kind, by any reasonable estimation. Chester enjoyed silence and solitude when he was working in his home office, and viewed the slightest deviation from routine as an enormous, unforgiveable disruption. Children would be more than a slight deviation from routine. Children would be the nuclear option where routine was concerned. Serena enjoyed gardening and sitting on the board of various tidy, elegant nonprofits, and paying other people to maintain her home in a spotless state. Children were messes walking. They were trampled petunias and baseballs through picture windows, and they had no place in the carefully ordered world the Wolcotts inhabited.
What those people didn't see was the way the partners at Chester's law firm brought their sons to work, handsome little clones of their fathers in age-appropriate menswear, future kings of the world in their perfectly shined shoes, with their perfectly modulated voices. He watched, increasingly envious, as junior partners brought in pictures of their own sleeping sons and were lauded, and for what? Reproducing! Something so simple that any beast in the field could do it.
At night, he started dreaming of perfectly polite little boys with his hair and Serena's eyes, their blazers buttoned just so, the partners beaming beneficently at this proof of what a family man he was.
What those people didn't see was the way some of the women on Serena's boards would occasionally bring their daughters with them, making apologies about incompetent nannies or unwell babysitters, all while secretly gloating as everyone rushed to ooh and ahh over their beautiful baby girls. They were a garden in their own right, those privileged daughters in their gowns of lace and taffeta, and they would spend meetings and tea parties playing peacefully on the edge of the rug, cuddling their stuffed toys and feeding imaginary cookies to their dollies. Everyone she knew was quick to compliment those women for their sacrifices, and for what? Having a baby! Something so easy that people had been doing it since time began.
At night, she started dreaming of beautifully composed little girls with her mouth and Chester's nose, their dresses explosions of fripperies and frills, the ladies falling over themselves to be the first to tell her how wonderful her daughter was.
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 was right after Christmas — round after round of interminable office parties and charity events — when Chester turned to Serena and said, "I have something I would like to discuss with you."
"I want to have a baby," she replied.
Chester paused. He was an orderly man with an orderly wife, living in an ordinary, orderly life. He wasn't used to her being quite so open with her desires or, indeed, having desires at all. It was dismaying ... and a trifle exciting, if he were being honest.
Finally, he smiled, and said, "That was what I wanted to talk to you about."
There are people in this world — good, honest, hard-working people — who want nothing more than to have a baby, and who try for years to conceive one without the slightest success. There are people who must see doctors in small, sterile rooms, hearing terrifying proclamations about how much it will cost to even begin hoping. There are people who must go on quests, chasing down the north wind to ask for directions to the House of the Moon, where wishes can be granted, if the hour is right and the need is great enough. There are people who will try, and try, and try, and receive nothing for their efforts but a broken heart.
Chester and Serena went upstairs to their room, to the bed they shared, and Chester did not put on a condom, and Serena did not remind him, and that was that. The next morning, she stopped taking her birth control pills. Three weeks later, she missed her period, which had been as orderly and on-time as the rest of her life since she was twelve years old. Two weeks after that, she sat in a small white room while a kindly man in a long white coat told her that she was going to be a mother.
"How long before we can get a picture of the baby?" asked Chester, already imagining himself showing it to the men at the office, jaw strong, gaze distant, like he was lost in dreams of playing catch with his son-to-be.
"Yes, how long?" asked Serena. The women she worked with always shrieked and fawned when someone arrived with a new sonogram to pass around the group. How nice it would be, to finally be the center of attention!
The doctor, who had dealt with his share of eager parents, smiled. "You're about five weeks along," he said. "I don't recommend an ultrasound before twelve weeks, under normal circumstances. Now, this is your first pregnancy. You may want to wait before telling anyone that you're pregnant. Everything seems normal now, but it's early days yet, and it will be easier if you don't have to take back an announcement."
Serena looked bemused. Chester fumed. To even suggest that his wife might be so bad at being pregnant — something so simple that any fool off the street could do it — was offensive in ways he didn't even have words for. But Dr. Tozer had been recommended by one of the partners at his firm, with a knowing twinkle in his eye, and Chester simply couldn't see a way to change doctors without offending someone too important to offend.
"Twelve weeks, then," said Chester. "What do we do until then?"
Dr. Tozer told them. Vitamins and nutrition and reading, so much reading. It was like the man expected their baby to be the most difficult in the history of the world, with all the reading that he assigned. But they did it, dutifully, like they were following the steps of a magical spell that would summon the perfect child straight into their arms. They never discussed whether they were hoping for a boy or a girl; both of them knew, so completely, what they were going to have that it seemed unnecessary. So Chester went to bed each night dreaming of his son, while Serena dreamt of her daughter, and for a time, they both believed that parenthood was perfect.
They didn't listen to Dr. Tozer's advice about keeping the pregnancy a secret, of course. When something was this good, it needed to be shared. Their friends, who had never seen them as the parenting type, were confused but supportive. Their colleagues, who didn't know them well enough to understand what a bad idea this was, were enthusiastic. Chester and Serena shook their heads and made lofty comments about learning who their "real" friends were.
Serena went to her board meetings and smiled contently as the other women told her that she was beautiful, that she was glowing, that motherhood "suited her."
Chester went to his office and found that several of the partners were dropping by "just to chat" about his impending fatherhood, offering advice, offering camaraderie.
Everything was perfect.
They went to their first ultrasound appointment together, and Serena held Chester's hand as the technician rubbed blueish slime over her belly and rolled the wand across it. The picture began developing. For the first time, Serena felt a pang of concern. What if there was something wrong with the baby? What if Dr. Tozer had been right, and the pregnancy should have remained a secret, at least for a little while?
"Well?" asked Chester.
"You wanted to know the baby's gender, yes?" asked the technician.
"You have a perfect baby girl," said the technician.
Serena laughed in vindicated delight, the sound dying when she saw the scowl on Chester's face. Suddenly, the things they hadn't discussed seemed large enough to fill the room.
The technician gasped. "I have a second heartbeat," she said.
They both turned to look at her.
"Twins," she said.
"Is the second baby a boy or a girl?" asked Chester.
The technician hesitated. "The first baby is blocking our view," she hedged. "It's difficult to say for sure —"
"Guess," said Chester.
"I'm afraid it would not be ethical for me to guess at this stage," said the technician. "I'll make you another appointment, for two weeks from now. Babies move around in the womb. We should be able to get a better view then."
They did not get a better view. The first infant remained stubbornly in front, and the second infant remained stubbornly in back, and the Wolcotts made it all the way to the delivery room — for a scheduled induction, of course, the date chosen by mutual agreement and circled in their day planners — hoping quietly that they were about to become the proud parents of both son and daughter, completing their nuclear family on the first try. Both of them were slightly smug about the idea. It smacked of efficiency, of tailoring the perfect solution right out the gate.
(The thought that babies would become children, and children would become people, never occurred to them. The concept that perhaps biology was not destiny, and that not all little girls would be pretty princesses, and not all little boys would be brave soldiers, also never occurred to them. Things might have been easier if those ideas had ever slithered into their heads, unwanted but undeniably important. Alas, their minds were made up, and left no room for such revolutionary opinions.)
The labor took longer than planned. Serena did not want a C-section if she could help it, did not want the scarring and the mess, and so she pushed when she was told to push, and rested when she was told to rest, and gave birth to her first child at five minutes to midnight on September fifteenth. The doctor passed the baby to a waiting nurse, announced, "It's a girl," and bent back over his patient.
Chester, who had been holding out hope that the reticent boy-child would push his way forward and claim the vaunted position of firstborn, said nothing as he held his wife's hand and listened to her straining to expel their second child. Her face was red, and the sounds she was making were nothing short of animal. It was horrifying. He couldn't imagine a circumstance under which he would touch her ever again. No; it was good that they were having both their children at once. This way, it would be over and done with.
A slap; a wail; and the doctor's voice proudly proclaiming, "It's another healthy baby girl!" Serena fainted.
Chester envied her.
* * *
LATER, WHEN SERENA WAS tucked safe in her private room with Chester beside her and the nurses asked if they wanted to meet their daughters, they said yes, of course. How could they have said anything different? They were parents now, and parenthood came with expectations. Parenthood came with rules. If they failed to meet those expectations, they would be labeled unfit in the eyes of everyone they knew, and the consequences of that, well ... They were unthinkable.
The nurses returned with two pink-faced, hairless things that looked more like grubs or goblins than anything human. "One for each of you," twinkled a nurse, and handed Chester a tight-swaddled baby like it was the most ordinary thing in the world.
"Have you thought about names?" asked another, handing Serena the second infant.
"My mother's name was Jacqueline," said Serena cautiously, glancing at Chester. They had discussed names, naturally, one for a girl, one for a boy. They had never considered the need to name two girls.
"Our head partner's wife is named Jillian," said Chester. He could claim it was his mother's name if he needed to. No one would know. No one would ever know.
"Jack and Jill," said the first nurse, with a smile. "Cute."
"Jacqueline and Jillian," corrected Chester frostily. "No daughter of mine will go by something as base and undignified as a nickname."
The nurse's smile faded. "Of course not," she said, when what she really meant was "of course they will," and "you'll see soon enough."
Serena and Chester Wolcott had fallen prey to the dangerous allure of other people's children. They would learn the error of their ways soon enough. People like them always did.CHAPTER 2
PRACTICALLY PERFECT IN VIRTUALLY NO WAYS
THE WOLCOTTS LIVED in a house at the top of a hill in the middle of a fashionable neighborhood where every house looked alike. The homeowner's association allowed for three colors of exterior paint (two colors too many, in the minds of many of the residents), a strict variety of fence and hedge styles around the front lawn, and small, relatively quiet dogs from a very short list of breeds. Most residents elected not to have dogs, rather than deal with the complicated process of filling out the permits and applications required to own one.
All of this conformity was designed not to strangle but to comfort, allowing the people who lived there to relax into a perfectly ordered world. At night, the air was quiet. Safe. Secure.
Save, of course, for the Wolcott home, where the silence was split by healthy wails from two sets of developing lungs. Serena sat in the dining room, staring blankly at the two screaming babies.
"You've had a bottle," she informed them. "You've been changed. You've been walked around the house while I bounced you and sang that dreadful song about the spider. Why are you still crying?"
Jacqueline and Jillian, who were crying for some of the many reasons that babies cry — they were cold, they were distressed, they were offended by the existence of gravity — continued to wail. Serena stared at them in dismay. No one had told her that babies would cry all the time. Oh, there had been comments about it in the books she'd read, but she had assumed that they were simply referring to bad parents who failed to take a properly firm hand with their offspring.
"Can't you shut them up?" demanded Chester from behind her. She didn't have to turn to know that he was standing in the doorway in his dressing gown, scowling at all three of them — as if it were somehow her fault that babies seemed designed to scream without cease! He had been complicit in the creation of their daughters, but now that they were here, he wanted virtually nothing to do with them.
"I've been trying," she said. "I don't know what they want, and they can't tell me. I don't ... I don't know what to do."
Chester had not slept properly in three days. He was starting to fear the moment when it would impact his work and catch the attention of the partners, painting him and his parenting abilities in a poor light. Perhaps it was desperation, or perhaps it was a moment of rare and impossible clarity.
"I'm calling my mother," he said.
Chester Wolcott was the youngest of three children: by the time he had come along, the mistakes had been made, the lessons had been learned, and his parents had been comfortable with the process of parenting. His mother was an unforgivably soppy, impractical woman, but she knew how to burp a baby, and perhaps by inviting her now, while Jacqueline and Jillian were too young to be influenced by her ideas about the world, they could avoid inviting her later, when she might actually do some damage.
Serena would normally have objected to the idea of her mother-in-law invading her home, setting everything out of order. With the babies screaming and the house already in disarray, all she could do was nod.
Chester made the call first thing in the morning.
Louise Wolcott arrived on the train eight hours later.
By the standards of anyone save for her ruthlessly regimented son, Louise was a disciplined, orderly woman. She liked the world to make sense and follow the rules. By the standards of her son, she was a hopeless dreamer. She thought the world was capable of kindness; she thought people were essentially good and only waiting for an opportunity to show it.
Excerpted from Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire, Lee Harris. Copyright © 2017 Seanan McGuire. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a lovely, haunting story; a dark fairytale for those who would rebel against a world that tries to hold them too tight to a path that doesn't suit. It didn't hit me as hard as 'Every Heart a Doorway' but I know there are people for whom it will, readers who needed to hear that they could change, that remaking ones' self is a choice offered to them. And really, I want everyone to read this, because I want everyone who needs it to find it, and because it is beautiful.
This is my doorway I love everything about this series and Down Among The Sticks and Bones is my favorite one so far. It's a dark, twisted fairytale and McGuire beautifully twists several horror tropes around, creating a tale that is haunting and gorgeous. I love the plot, love the characters, love the representation and I adore McGuire's writing. This book hit me on a personal level and I will definitely be re-reading it in the future. It's a quick read and if you love grim fantasies, this one is for you. Recommended for fans of Frankenstein, Dracula, Miss Peregrine and A Series of Unfortunate Events.
This book was dark and twisted in the best way possible. I loved the complexity of Jack and Jill's relationship, and how they pushed back against their parents by going through the door. I liked how the parents were unlikeable characters at least in my opinion. I felt that the story was complex, and I love how it came full circle.
Jack and Jill are twins. When they were little they were divided by their parents. Jack was her mother's princess. She was dressed like a doll and wasn't allowed to make her clothes dirty. Jill was her father's tomboy. She was dressed like a boy and was supposed to be adventurous and athletic. The girls couldn't be the persons they truly wanted to be and lived like that for years. They are relieved when they can escape their stifling life, so when they find a door to another world they enter. Jack and Jill have choices to make. In their new world they can decide, but their decisions have consequences. Jack can be the scientist she's always longed to be and Jill can live a life in luxury with a closet filled with frilly dresses. However, this comes at a price. How much are they willing to pay for the escape from their parents and what will happen when their stay in the world they have entered comes to an end? Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a fascinating creepy story. Jack and Jill are twins, but they couldn't be more different. Because of their parents' plans for them they aren't close. They resent what the other has and this leads to friction. When they can finally choose it's liberating they can leave their forced identities behind, but that doesn't mean they are safe and free. They haven't entered a friendly world and to become part of their new surroundings they have to make sacrifices. It was interesting to see what choices they were going to make and how this would affect their characters. Jack is friendly and hardworking. She has quite a few quirks and that makes her incredibly interesting. Jill's personality is darker and more volatile and that left me with a fabulous sense of dread. Seanan McGuire has written a beautiful series filled with magic and danger. She writes about darkness, longing to be somewhere else, unhappiness, identity crises and eeriness in a fantastic gripping way. I love her worldbuilding skills. The places she writes about are versatile, scary in their own way and intriguing. Finding out what would happen to Jack and Jill once they walk through their door kept me on the edge of my seat. Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a terrific scary story.
When I first started reading this, I didn't think I would love it as much as I did the first one. While Jack and Jill were interesting, I wasn't sure how I would react to their world. I was completely wrong. I loved this book just as much as the first one. I love getting little peaks into these worlds that McGuire has created and I'm very excited to see what the third book has in store. Just like the first, I both wish that this book was longer yet thought it was perfect at the length that it was. Just enough to leave you wanted more.
This novella follow-up to Every Heart a Doorway is dark, deadly, and as equally stunning as its predecessor. Though it takes place chronologically before Every Heart and could easily be read independently, I think reading them in publication order adds a layer of harrowing suspense. Those who have read Every Heart know the general outline of Jack and Jill's story and their time in the world of the Moors, but the details are only vaguely sketched. Here, they are fully outlined in all their cold harshness. Down Among the Sticks and Bones is full of looming dread as the story heads inexorably toward its tragic ending, the sense of oncoming doom enhanced by readers' knowledge of the future rather than detracted. The introductory section detailing their early life, carefully regimented by parents who see their twin daughters as things to be molded and posed into perfect examples of family life rather than individuals, is heartbreaking and perfectly sets up how two innocents could be so perfectly suited for the brutal Moors. With the same lyrical prose, grueling truths and perfectly imperfect characters as Every Heart, Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a phenomenal entry to the Wayward Children series.
I have been a fan of Seanan’s work since I started the first October Daye novel. I enjoyed the first book in the Wayward Children series. I can’t say that I loved the second book. I wasn’t expecting a prequel novel to be honest. If anything if she wanted a Jack and Jill story I would have preferred to see them after the events of Every Heart a Doorway. Still, it was a quick read and parts of it were fun. It made me like Jack a lot more.
If you follow my reviews at all you'll probably know that I think Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant is one of the best writers of urban fantasy currently writing/publishing. Her newer 'Wayward Children' series is a slight departure from the urban fantasy setting of her popular October Daye series but it is equally impressive and powerful. The book/series is a dark look at the Jack and Jill fairy tale. Jack and Jill are twin sisters (Jacqueline and Jill) and the story is of their childhood (such as it was) up to the point where we see them in the previous book (Every Heart a Doorway) (meaning, of course, that this is a prequel). Jack is the girly-girl. She was her mother's project to dress up in frill and lace, whereas Jill is the tomboy - the son her father wished for and tried to raise. Like many siblings, they don't always get along, but when they discover a doorway to a strange, magical land, they will need each other (and each others' strengths) much more than they might expect. Seanan McGuire not only writes lyrical prose that is haunting and beautiful and really holds a reader, but stories such as this reach further into social themes than one might ordinarily expect with an urban fantasy. Parenthood, gender identification, parent/child expectations are a few of the themes explored in this fairy tale and in McGuire's hands we can be sure that answers to questions won't be easily forthcoming (if at all). The only downside to this book is that if you've read Every Heart a Doorway you will know how this ends. As such, for those just beginning to discover the magical words and worlds of Seanan McGuire, it might have been nice if the publisher listed this as book #.5 instead of book #2. But that's a pretty minor complaint. Read the books in whatever order you want, but do read them. Looking for a good book? Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a short book by Seanan McGuire ... short in terms of page numbers, but full-bodied in terms of theme and story. It is a must-read for lovers of fantasy fiction. I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones, while a sequel to Every Heart a Doorway, is set chronologically before it. This means that we get Jack and Jill's story, about how they reached the Moors, how they were changed there and what happened to make them come back. It explores gender roles in modern society, and how parental abuse can be insidious and invisible to others. Jacquelline & Jillian were born to a couple who had no interest in being parents aside from fitting it like a slot into their perfect lives - and they each see one of the girls as clay to fashion into what they want their child to be like. Jill is molded into the tomboy by her father, because he wanted a son, and Jack is brought up to behave like a princess, because that is what her mother wanted. Nobody asked what they wanted, and when they finally reach the horror-town of the Moors, where they are free to choose what lives they want to lead, they are happy. Jill gets to reclaim her femininity while Jack can be more than a pretty face - each of the girls is complex and even in the monster-ridden world of the Moors, they are able to carve out happiness for themselves. However, as the author warns us, they were creatures of their parents' desires, so wholly separated from each other, that tragedy was to befall them. Jill becomes a ward of the local vampire lord (trust me, not so humorous as it sounds) while Jack apprentices under the 'mad scientist'. Jack even finds love in the form of a resurrected girl, but we know that story was never going to end well - this was a 'before' story for a reason. I actually read this as an audiobook, in which the omniscient third person narrative and the author's lovely storytelling (she narrates it herself) combine to deliver a story that is delightfully morbid to hear
THIS IS A PREQUEL: Goodreads has Down Among the Sticks and Bones mislabeled as a sequel to Every Heart a Doorway. For the first half of this short book, I kept wondering when it was going to move on from back story and progress with the plot. Then I read the cover flap, and I learned that it was actually a prequel. From that point on, I enjoyed this book a lot more. The Wayward Children series is kind of like Alice in Wonderland only there are infinite worlds that children fall into. In the first book we met a full cast of characters who attend a boarding school for children who want desperately to get back to the worlds they’ve discovered. Among those characters are twins – Jack and Jill – who had vastly different experiences of their world. This book tells of Jack and Jill and how they ended up in their world to begin with. It also explains what happened to them there. It helps the reader understand the events of Every Heart a Doorway. I couldn’t quite remember the details of the original book, and I really wanted to re-read it after reading this new book. I didn’t read the whole thing again, but I did check it out from the library, so I could review the ending of that book. And now I want a sequel even more. This book is a great addition to the series, and I think it could even act as a stand alone. If you haven’t read the first book yet, you may consider starting with this book. I think it’s better organized, and it could make Every Heart a Doorway a lot less confusing. http://opinionatedbooklover.com/review-down-among-the-sticks-and-bones-by-seanan-mcguire/
I loved this book.
Beautiful and bittersweet backstory for Jack and Jill.
Beautifully written, deeply satisfying, and an excellent addition to the Wayward Children series.
I kept looking for something more, but I never found it. At 9.99 and just over 100 pages, it is definitely not worth it.