Down among the sticks and bones by Seanan McGuire (Wayward Children # 2)

Seanan McGuire continues her marvellously magical exploration of the dark side of our fairy tales – Down among the sticks and bones is the accompanying novella to the first book, in the series Wayward Children. Sort of like an origin story to Jack and Jill, the twins from Every Heart a Doorway where we were first introduced to Eleanor West's School for the special kids. Kids who had tumbled down through rabbit-holes, whisked away into faraway magical worlds through doors that opened out into such. Kids who come back in our monotonous hum-drum of an everyday daily life and need to learn to adjust back. But some of them never do, because of the irresistible magical pull of the life beyond those doors, in these lush beautiful Hallways or scary dangerous Moors as it may be.

Jack and Jill, or Jacqueline and Jillian as they are born – twins to indifferent unloving parents Chester and Melanie are raised up to conform to the ideals of their parents as trophy children – to complete the perfect picture of the successful couple. Jill becomes her father’s rough and tumble tom-boy whom he would show off at local soccer matches while Jack becomes the dainty pretty princess, a mirror to her mother’s ambitions in the society. Despite their grandmother Gemma Lou who raises them up until they are five and drums into them, to look out for each other, they grow up as two different individuals with their uncaring parents’ ideas firmly shaping their minds. But shortly after their twelfth birthday, they both discover a door, leading down winding stairs when they open their grandmother’s trunk. Into a Moorland ruled by a ‘Master’ who loves to feast on blood within the high walls of his castle. The ‘foundlings’ have to now choose between a life of comfort and luxury and a ragged life outside the protection of the castle walls, in the wilds. They meet Doctor Bleak, a tough taskmaster who promises to teach them everything he knows but he warns them about the harsh realities one would have to live with, in the wilds.

Jill, having grown up confused by why the boys would flock to the prettiest girl in class – her sister whose face exactly resembled hers - is fascinated by the idea of the pretty gowns and a life of unparalleled luxury within the castle. She is grateful to the master and suppresses her own ideals, a cognitive dissonance playing strongly in the back of her mind against the horrific truth of what her master actually was. Jack on the other hand, always cautious and always observing, immediately picks up on the wicked vibes of the one they call Master and is quick to choose Doctor Bleak as her choice. Expanding her horizon of learning. But after five years of living peacefully in this wild Moor land, approaching their eighteenth birthday – Jill finally does something horrific, in her desperate need to be accepted as her Master’s heir. This snaps the balance in their imperfect world and love pays the price for such folly.

This book, again is an amazing exploration of the human psyche – it’s a story of coming-of-age amidst horrors unimaginable. About our indomitable spirits that lets us do horrific deeds for that desperate need to be accepted, to be loved. It’s a lovely twisted little story of the lost love between two souls, bound as twins and yet that growing chasm between them is becoming wider, making them bitter as enemies. A dark rumination on love and jealousy, Down among sticks and bones may gleam duller than the first book in the series but is every bit a fitting accompaniment to this brilliant series. And now to wrap up this series with the last book out last week, Beneath a Sugar Sky.


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