Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a prequel to the 2017 novella and Nebula Award winner Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire. Stick and Bones gives us the background of two key characters from Doorway, the twin sisters Jacqueline (Jack) and Jillian (Jill). In just over fifty crisp pages we are given the girls' origin story with personalities and motivations, enough to let us know them before they stumble on a magic portal to another world.

In the presence of another world
A dreadful knowledge comes...

- Random Blue Oyster Cult quote (sorta (it's complicated))

Every Heart a Doorway established that in the universe of the Wayward Children stories, there are many worlds of many different types which can be reached by magic portals: some are traditional fairylands, while others are much darker. The world that Jack and Jill find is a gothic horror world, by turns echoing Lovecraft, Ravenloft, and Universal's Dark Universe. The girls find themselves in a castle with a mysterious master, and we're not forced to wonder long at his resemblance to the vampire archetype, for such a fiend he is. But he shares power in his pocket world with a mad scientist, and the two have a bargain about taking turns to acquire visitors. One gets custody of each girl, and each they set about mentoring/converting them in their own image.

Another fifty pages have passed as part three opens, the girls have quietly grown into their roles, both comfortable with their choices. We learn more about the girl with the scientist, and rather less about the vampire's companion. But the threads of the plot draw them together again, with catastrophic consequences for both. One makes a deadly choice in a fit of impatience, and suddenly both are imperiled. A mob of angry villagers chases them to a last desperate gambit that hurls them back into the world of their birth, setting them up for Every Heart a Doorway. But the mad scientist gives them hope, there is a way that they can return....

Recommendation

I loved Every Heart a Doorway. Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a worthy sequel and a good read, but I came away slightly disappointed. It may be because the novella seemed so squarely in my wheelhouse, as a not fully reformed Ravenloft dungeon master and admirer of the Gothic horror tradition in its many forms. The story beats seemed a little to obvious to me, hitting all the necessary marks but seldom surprising me. That's not to fault the writing in any way, the characters are solid, the dialog great, the scenes richly envisioned. I just wanted...more. But with only 187 pages to work with, and a predetermined place to end up, the author filled in the Jack and Jill backstory in a way that nicely augments but does not disrupt or retcon Every Heart a Doorway. It did deeper my admiration for one of the girls, and I hope that Seanan McGuire isn't quite done with her yet.


References

Borrowed from the library and just finished it.

I hauled out the Ravenloft campaign playlist for companion music while reading: The Bram Stoker's Dracula soundtrack, Imaginos, the work of Midnight Syndicate, and so on. Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!

You can see the amazing cover at Tor's web site. You can find some bonus art for the novella there too.

Its too late for SciFiQuest 3017 and too wordy for BQ17
It's just a writeup.

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