Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Sticks and Bones

Seanan McGuire's Down Among the Sticks and Bones, sequel to her novella Every Heart a Doorway, is the story of Jack and Jill and their door, and how they came to the Moors in the first place.

My favorite character in the first book was Jack, so getting the story of Jack and Jill here was so delightful. I didn't want to put the book down, at all, and when I finished I went back and reread Every Heart just because I wanted a little bit more.  I love how dark this story is, and how many things Jack and Jill are not to each other, even when they are always sisters.

The story can be split into two parts--their life before the door, that turned them into people fit for the Moors, and their life after the door, in their new home.  I had actually expected the part in our world with their parents to be brief, more prequel, but it is actually a substantial part of the story.

I got frustrated with this part a bit, because it creates a lot of distance.  First, the parents are inhuman.  Like, the fact that they're stiff and prim and have all the wrong priorities is not inhuman, but they seem to have no perception of other human beings as people, especially their daughters.  It's so exaggerated as to be--and here lies the twist--fairy-tale-like.

And that's the thing that I realized about the first half--this is the odd, distanced, abstract telling of a fairy tale.  My other complaint was how much showing instead of telling we get, and how the girls end up acting like archetypes, even when they know they're not. I've always said that I'm not a huge fan of fairy tales themselves (though I'm down with a good retelling) because they are not about character at all, and the first part of this book is an exaggerated version of that. 

But this is all the more to contrast with what happens when you get to the Moors.  There, each character is specific and individual. The Master--an actual inhuman monster--has more individual personality than both of the twins' parents put together.  Dr. Bleak is very human, even as he is harsh and abrupt.  Even the villagers seem more real than the people who attended their parents' barbecues--they perceive what's going on around them and react to it in emotionally appropriate ways.

Reading this book was pure pleasure, and I love the person Jack becomes.  She's cold, and hard, and flawed, and that's partly who her mother made her and partly who Dr. Bleak made her and partly who she just is.  But she's smart and determined and acts with surprising generosity.  I think that a cold, hard person who is also generous is a character type that I'm a sucker for, is what it comes down to.

The third one, Beneath the Sugar Sky, comes out next January, and Tor previewed some of the illustrations (with a few short excerpts) today.  It's about Sumi, who deserved a better ending. I truly cannot wait.

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