Subterranean Press has done it again. Kingdom of Needle and Bone is the newest science-horror novella from Mira Grant, pseudonym of Seanan McGuire and it is bold and political and terrifying.
We live in an age of wonders.
Modern medicine has conquered or contained many of the diseases that used to carry children away before their time, reducing mortality and improving health. Vaccination and treatment are widely available, not held in reserve for the chosen few. There are still monsters left to fight, but the old ones, the simple ones, trouble us no more.
Or so we thought. For with the reduction in danger comes the erosion of memory, as pandemics fade from memory into story into fairy tale. Those old diseases can’t have been so bad, people say, or we wouldn’t be here to talk about them. They don’t matter. They’re never coming back.
How wrong we could be.
It begins with a fever. By the time the spots appear, it’s too late: Morris’s disease is loose on the world, and the bodies of the dead begin to pile high in the streets. When its terrible side consequences for the survivors become clear, something must be done, or the dying will never stop. For Dr. Isabella Gauley, whose niece was the first confirmed victim, the route forward is neither clear nor strictly ethical, but it may be the only way to save a world already in crisis. It may be the only way to atone for her part in everything that’s happened.
She will never be forgiven, not by herself, and not by anyone else. But she can, perhaps, do the right thing.
We live in an age of monsters.
My 4-star rating is actually an average because for this book I have two ratings. Five stars if you’re new to Mira Grant or haven’t read much from Seanan’s alter-ego. Three stars if you have read Mira Grant’s previous works and are familiar with her favorite tropes. Kingdom of Needle and Bone is Peak Mira Grant, absolutely on brand. This is a boon as much as it is a challenge.
I am an avid reader of Seanan’s and I have read nearly everything she’s written – so unfortunately I saw some of the twists near the end of the book coming.
But, that aside, Kingdom of Needle and Bone is a searing takedown of the Anti-Vaccination movement. Seanan also brings up interesting points in the bodily-autonomy and reproductive rights spheres. This book is unflinchingly political and will be loved and hated likely based on how the reader feels about those topics.
My heart broke for some of the characters and I put the book down shaken. Kingdom of Needle and Bone is unrelenting and unflinching and a terrifying view of a potential future.
I put Kingdom of Needle and Bone down and then desperately needed to discuss it with someone. So I reached out to my blog friends Marzie’s Reads and Janelle! Click on over to Marzie’s Reads for part one of our discussion. Then come back and read below for part two! SPOILERS ABOUND!
Thank you to Subterranean Press for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest review.
At the end of Part 1 of our Discussion, Marzie asked what we thought of the characters…
Janelle: Hm. None of the characters are very warm. The character I felt the worst for was Lisa. I loathed Angela.
Alex: Well, I certainly always hated Angela, Lisa’s bio-parent.
Marzie: Angela got on my very last nerve. She’s horrible. But I wasn’t a fan of Isabelle, either.
Janelle: I appreciated Isabelle’s ruthlessness, but I didn’t warm to her. I definitely saw the ending coming. She was really cold.
Alex: Yeah, I liked Isabelle as much as I could, but she wasn’t my favorite main character. I never disliked her enough to stop reading, but she was more Dr. Kale (Mira Grant’s Parasitology trilogy) than Dr. Abbey (Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series), and I like my mad scientists more the Dr. Abbey flavor.
Marzie: I totally agree about the Dr. Abbey-style mad doctor preference. Dr. Abbey has a sense of bioethics. Dr. Gauley, not so much. I don’t feel any love or caring from Isabelle. I don’t know whether it was her being overwhelmed with anger or what, but even her reaction to Lisa getting so sick… I really felt like she thought it was “a regrettable casualty, sad collateral damage in favor of a greater cause.” She kissed that Hippocratic oath goodbye.
Janelle: Yes, I agree. Even the fact that it was her niece who started all of this, she was still just cold. There was no vulnerability. I agree with your assessment of her character, Alex. I wouldn’t stop reading the story, because the characters in this were basically just vehicles for the story, and I appreciate characters who aren’t the norm being given an entire novella to play with.
Alex: My heart did break for Brooke though. She is the ultimate victim here. Betrayed by both her sisters in different ways, lost her husband and daughter to the virus that came from her own sister almost none the wiser to half of it.
Marzie: Yes, Brooke’s losses were terrible. I just can’t fathom Isabelle in a lot of ways. Her coldness was really something I didn’t enjoy in the story. But what about other elements. How do you feel about the isolation plan? Humane? A necessary evil?
Janelle: I think the isolation plan was brilliant. I mean, I didn’t totally buy how easily it was executed, but it being kind of a grisly, fairy tale type story, I liked it.
Alex: I think the isolation plan was necessary and amazing, but I did find it a little hard to believe that it could be pulled off.
Marzie: I didn’t think it could be pulled off. I was actually pleased when the billionaire thought you could have special exceptions for rich people (so believable) but I think it still would have failed.
Alex: I mean, obviously it did in a way. Angela found her way to the island. Who knows what the repercussions of that were. She might be dead, but the virus may have hitched a ride and who knows where all she went and what she touched.
Marzie: That’s true. Angela is so frustrating. She seemed so competent that it’s hard to understand her intellectual positions being as unreasonable as they are.
Janelle: Angela was a terrible person. Gosh, I am getting mad at her all over again. And it’s weird, because I don’t find Isabelle at all sympathetic. Not even remotely, but I did want her isolation idea to survive.
Alex: HA! That’s entirely how I feel about the Anti-Vax movement! A large majority of anti-vaxxers are educated white people who are arguably intelligent enough to hold Bachelors Degrees, but they hold an intellectual position that KILLS PEOPLE and they don’t see what they’re doing. I am perpetually baffled and angry.
Marzie: Yes, the book re-angers me,too. (Yeah, it’s a word.) It’s like what happens when I look at photos of Bill Maher or Jenny McCarthy and think of impressionable people listening to them and believing vaccines are bad.
Janelle: Sometimes I wonder if they’re doing it on purpose. That the person who started all this rhetoric wanted to depopulate the earth. Because their arguments are so stupid, but so WIDESPREAD.
Marzie: Actually, the history of the Wakefield fraud is far simpler than that. He did it for financial gain, because he was working on a competitor vaccine that he had already filed to patent. (“In June 1997 – nearly nine months before the press conference at which Wakefield called for single vaccines – he had filed a patent on products, including his own supposedly “safer” single measles vaccine, which only stood any prospect of success if confidence in MMR was damaged.” From: https://briandeer.com/mmr/lancet-summary.htm)
Alex: That is so freaking depressing. I hope he is perpetually plagued by incurable bedbugs and maybe some measles. This is kind of my fear about this book – no one is going to be able to talk about the book and separate their personal politics from the story. So we’re going to see people who love or hate it based entirely on their own personal politics.
Janelle: I’m okay with anti-vaxxers getting their feelings hurt.
Marzie: I am too, but because this is a small press book, I worry they won’t get their feelings hurt as they should! The people that most need to contemplate herd immunity via accessible fiction probably won’t get to, sadly.
Janelle: Yeah, I can see why Tor wouldn’t want to publish something so blatant, but I love my edition. It’s a work of art.
Marzie: Or DAW or Orbit….
Alex: Yeah, this is definitely not a book a mainstream publisher would touch.
Marzie: It’s a gutsy move on Seanan’s part. And I love SubPress for supporting it.
Janelle: It makes me wonder about what’s in Mira Grant’s future? I think sometimes I prefer her writing; Seanan can go overboard with the linguistic poetry.
Alex: Well, Mira is certainly safe for now, especially riding on the coattails of the movie deal for Rolling in the Deep. (another SubPress book!)
Marzie: Seanan has said in the past that she enjoys her two writer personas and is creating a reader expectation as to content each produces. I can totally see that’s the case: Mira writes more of a horror style but she also speaks with a harder edge politically now. Even in the Rolling in the Deep series of books. Mira Grant stories don’t suffer fools for long.
Alex: Well, she certainly has a distinctive voice. Kingdom of Needle and Bone is ON BRAND for Mira Grant.
Janelle: Totally on brand. I just worry because we haven’t heard what’s up next. I hope she continues to have a relationship with SubPress. The print copy I have is a work of art. It’s beautiful.
Marzie: I’ve loved all the SubPress books that Seanan has written as Mira Grant. The paper alone is so luscious but these are all novellas that are in a unique niche. They’ve created space for other books to follow, like Into the Drowning Deep followed SubPress’s Rolling in the Deep.
Alex: I agree. The novellas are absolutely gorgeous. I love Subterranean Press and the space they allow authors to try new and exciting things. I can’t wait to hear more about In the Shadow of Spindrift House, coming from SubPress and Seanan/Mira in 2019!
Marzie: That’s an ARC I’ll be looking for! Janelle, thanks so much for reading with us! I love our discussions.
Janelle: It’s been great.