I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Boneyard by Seanan McGuire
Series: Deadlands #3
Published by Tor Books on October 17 2017
Genres: Adult, Horror
Format: Finished paperback
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The nitty-gritty: An action-packed and thrilling story that’s got something for everyone: terrifying monsters, stolen children, evil scientists, and of course, a circus sideshow full of dangerous creatures. Welcome to the show!
“Run?” asked Annie. “Run where? The trees close in on all sides. If it’s the woods I need to fear, my fate is sealed.”
“Run until Oregon is only a memory,” said the stranger grimly. “It’s not the woods you should fear. It’s the things that walk in their shade. For those things are hungry beyond all measure, and they can never, never be satisfied.”
You know me, I just can’t pass up a new book by Seanan McGuire! And so I immediately said “yes” when I was offered a copy of Boneyard, the latest novelization of the popular RPG franchise Deadlands. Not being a gamer myself, I was a little worried that I might not “get” or enjoy this, but I was DEAD wrong (insert groaning here). Although this is book #3 of the series, it’s not necessary to read the other books first. Boneyard is a self-contained story, and although I must admit there were a couple of areas where I thought I was missing out on some important back story descriptions, overall I can’t complain. Since I’m not familiar with the video game, I can’t comment on whether or not McGuire’s story captures the essence of the game, but I found it fast-paced and suspenseful, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself while reading it.
The story follows a small, close-knit group of circus performers, headed by circus owner Nathanial Blackstone. Annie Pearl is in charge of the “oddities” of the Blackstone Family Circus, mysterious but very dangerous creatures that Annie has found during their travels and brought together to form one of the most popular of the circus’ attractions. Annie is accompanied by her young daughter Adeline, a mute girl who always seems to be sick. We learn early on that Annie was forced to flee from the hot and arid desert town of Deseret (although the reasons are vague and mysterious) and she and Adeline have been with the circus ever since.
As the season is winding down, Nathanial decides to squeeze in one last stop in a small town called The Clearing, way up north in the state of Oregon. But rumors are circulating about strange disappearances in The Clearing, and the circus folk are nervous. Not everyone wants to follow Nathanial to Oregon, but those who are desperate for one more opportunity to earn some coin agree to the long journey.
When they finally arrive, they discover a secluded village surrounded by a dark wood, and the “clearing” is literally a cleared out bowl-like space in the middle of the encroaching forest. The circus performers set up camp and get ready for the show, but they are met with distrust and an overall sense that they aren’t welcome. When disaster strikes, and Adeline goes missing, Annie will do everything in her power to find her little girl, even if it means braving the monster-filled woods to do so.
I loved the format of Boneyard. McGuire’s story is mostly a straightforward narrative, but it’s interspersed with “interludes” that take place in Deseret, told from the perspective of Annie’s estranged husband, Michael. These interludes slowly reveal just what happened to make Annie leave her husband, and the story gets creepier and creepier with each new piece of carefully doled-out information. I won’t tell you anything about what happened in Deseret, but believe me when I say Annie had a great reason for leaving, and an even better reason for stealing Adeline out from under Michael’s clutches. Boneyard has several mysteries running throughout the story, and this was one of my favorites.
The other big mystery revolves around the woods in The Clearing, which are home to several monstrous creatures. Once again, McGuire drops her clues at just the right time, building the tension until the reader is nearly ready to snap. I had a few “jump” moments while reading this book, which honestly doesn’t happen to me that often. During one tense scene, my daughter snuck into the bedroom while I was reading and I nearly had a heart attack! One of the monsters is based on a folkloric creature called the wendigo and used to great effect, and the other is a wolf-like creature that actually ended up helping our lost characters. Both creatures were terrifying in their own way and added a great deal of depth to the story.
You may be wondering when I’m going to mention the circus in this review, which the book cover clearly leads one to believe is the main focus of the story. And true, Boneyard describes circus life, especially Annie’s wagon full of oddities, in the first part of the story, but when the circus gets to Oregon, the focus abruptly changes to the mystery of the monsters in the woods and their weird connection to the townspeople of The Clearing. In fact, one of my criticisms of this story is that there wasn’t more focus on the circus. I loved the chapters that described Annie’s strange creatures, and how important it is for her to care properly for them to make sure they don’t escape their cages. But the scary pumpkin head creature on the book cover? It’s barely mentioned at all, and I really wanted to know more about it.
But McGuire’s got a lot of story to fit into just over 300 pages, and as usual she does an admirable job of it. It’s no wonder she doesn’t spend more time with the circus folk when there are evil scientists in the desert to deal with, in addition to all the horrors found in The Clearing and its surrounding woods. The only other negative for me was the inclusion of a romance between Annie and Nathanial, which I suppose might tug on some readers’ heartstrings, but for me it just seemed silly for the couple to stop and kiss when things are literally falling apart around them. What won’t seem silly is the fierce love and devotion that Annie feels for Adeline, and finding out why she’s mute, as well as learning about the circumstances surrounding her birth, were some of my favorite parts of the story.
I also want to briefly mention the interior black and white illustrations by Steve Ellis, which added a nice touch to the book. I know Deadlands is a series, but whether or not the stories are related is still a mystery to me. I know for certain, though, that I wouldn’t mind running into these characters again.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.