Been reading my way through Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series. I don’t usually go for series, but to my mind, that’s a set of books with a small number of continuing characters who have a different adventure (or mystery) in each book but the characters don’t change (or grow) that much from book to book. McGuire’s books are starting to feel like each is a part of a much larger story. (Either that, or I simply like them and am finding reasons to be positive.) Anyway, “Down Among The Sticks And Bones” is the second. It is actually a prequel in that it gives the story of Jacqueline and Jillian (Jack and Jill) before what happens in the first book. Jack is my favorite character in the books (so far), so I was looking forward to this one and I think it is excellent. All of the principal characters feel real; they have virtues and flaws; they have their quirks and their motivations flow organically from who they are. These points are conveyed well, despite the brevity of the book. The plot carries a sense of impending doom which is handled well despite the fact that, as a prequel, we know a lot about how things turn out. I wondered for a while whether it would be better to read this book first, but I don’t think so. The first one is fun without knowing all the detail.
I think these books are a good illustration of the fact that you don’t need a ton of backstory or character soul-searching to create individualistic, three-dimensional characters. As in real life, the good guys can’t be all good and the bad guys can’t be all bad (okay, there have been some real world characters with no redeeming traits whatsoever, but that’s a, thankfully, rare event). This is particularly something to think about when penning the secondary characters in a story. If we want the reader to believe in the story as a whole, the way the secondary characters participate is very important. They can’t be cardboard.