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Down Among the Sticks and Bones: 11/16/18
Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire is the second of the Wayward Children. It tells the story of what happened to Jack and Jill before they arrived at Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. In their time line at home it's the years between twelve and seventeen but for them it's a lifetime.
For anyone who has read Every Heart a Doorway will have a very fixed picture of both twins. Here we are presented with the exact opposite for their pre-Wayward lives. Seanan McGuire sets up a Gothic horror around nature vs nurture gone horribly, horribly wrong.
When a couple long past worrying about children, comfortable in their aloneness are suddenly hit with the fact that there will be twins in their near future, decide to divide the work evenly. It seems like a good idea but essentially they each claim a child and decide to make her in their image.
The mother takes charge of Jacqueline, making her the perfect girl child (as if such a person exists). She is clothed in the best, most beautiful, most impractical dresses. Her hair is kept long. Her manners are molded to be refined and dainty. She doesn't go outside lest she or her dress get dirty.
The father takes Jillian and reimagines her as the son he really wants. Her hair is cut short. She is given jeans, shorts, sporty clothes, and is encouraged to be a rough and tumble sort of kid. Twins, identical at brith, are cleaved through such stubborn, narrowly focused parenting.
It is the forced separation of identical twins and the resulting double dose of discontent that welcomes the "impossible staircase." In McGuire's universe, pathways to other lands are not by roads but by doors. In this case it is a staircase that is in a place that should not be and is longer than possible given the architecture of the house.
The remainder of the novella is their time in their fairyland — a world built around Gothic monsters: vampires, mad scientists, and the like. The girls take their sides and grow into the personas we know from the first book.
In terms of the road narrative (because doors can be metaphorical roads), this book is a siblings traveling to utopia via a labyrinth. Siblings are the second most powerful type of traveler. Or I should say, with the most agency in terms of the road and barriers faced on a given journey. Readers familiar with Every Heart a Doorway will know how frightening a pair Jack and Jill are at Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. It is their status as twins that gives them so much power in utopia. Were they closer as siblings, they would have become an even more fearsome power.
Their journey to utopia (again used in this project to mean a no-place) through an impossible architecture in their house through a long but straightforward nonetheless staircase counts as a labyrinth. As it is a journey downwards, there is also a symbolic linking to the Labyrinth of Minos. That when their time in utopia ends and they are immediately thrust back into their old home and their old lives, further makes this a labyrinth. The way out is the same as the way in, just in reverse.
The next book in the series is Beneath the Sugar Sky which released January 8th, 2018.