Skip to main content

Down Among the Sticks and Bones


Down Among the Sticks and Bones

The portal to another world found by a child in need of transformation, safety or adventure... Portal tales are a staple in fairytale and fantasy literature, a tried-and-true trope that, in the right hands, can still feel original and exciting. DOWN AMONG THE STICKS AND BONES, the latest from prolific author Seanan McGuire, opens a portal from 12-year-old twins Jillian and Jacqueline, and the world they find beyond is one of danger and revelation. The sisters were introduced in McGuire’s acclaimed novel EVERY HEART A DOORWAY, and here readers learn their heartbreaking backstory.

Chester and Serena Wolcott were not well-suited to be parents. But their twin daughters become accessories to their lifestyle and symbols of their values and desires. Jillian was molded by her father to be a tough tomboy surrogate for the son he wanted, while Jacqueline took on the role of the pristine princess for her mother. Neither girl was authentically herself and was trapped, at home and at school, by the role she was forced to play. The only bright spot was the love of their grandmother Louise, who cared for them the first five years of their lives.

"Dark, poetic and strange, it is a tense and evocative fantasy exploring the meaning of self and family."

Then Louise was sent packing in the middle of the night by Chester, with no goodbye for her granddaughters. It will come as no surprise to readers that it is something left behind by Louise, a big trunk full of dress-up clothes and costume jewelry she had hoped to share with them someday, that opens up a passage to another world and means of escape. From the trunk, a long dusty staircase descends to a world known as the Moors. It is there that the two spend the next five years, exploring aspects of themselves long buried or hidden away.

The Moors are full of peril, from the monsters of the sea, the werewolves of the woods, and especially from the vampires of the moors and towns. The girls are split up --- Jillian coming to live as the daughter of the vampire known as the Master and Jacqueline as the apprentice of Dr. Bleak, a scientist who can bring back the dead. In the Master’s palace, Jillian, now Jill, lives a life of luxury and violence, and in Dr. Bleak’s windmill laboratory, Jacqueline, now Jack, works hard day in and day out, but also finds love. The sisters grow farther apart and more different from each other, and their old selves, each day. Inevitably their paths cross with terrible and devastating results. DOWN AMONG THE STICKS AND BONES brings the girls “home” when they are 17, and soon after, they will come to live at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, though that part of their story is told in EVERY HEART A DOORWAY.

Because McGuire is sometimes at pains for her readers to understand her characters, instead of allowing them to work for insight, she will occasionally overexplain. This means that DOWN AMONG THE STICKS AND BONES feels a bit repetitious at times, and a short novel can hardly afford repetition. Thankfully, the book is an overall success. Dark, poetic and strange, it is a tense and evocative fantasy exploring the meaning of self and family. McGuire is a great wordsmith who has crafted an enjoyable tale that both complements EVERY HEART A DOORWAY and stands strong on its own.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on June 30, 2017

Down Among the Sticks and Bones
by Seanan McGuire

  • Publication Date: June 13, 2017
  • Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher:
  • ISBN-10: 0765392038
  • ISBN-13: 9780765392039