In Come Tumbling Down, the forthcoming fifth book in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, the Wolcott twins take center stage once more. Chronologically, when we last saw them, Jill was dead and Jack was desperate to resurrect her. Now Jack returns to the school she abandoned, the trauma of a great and horrible thing that befell her back in the Moors still clinging to her like a death shroud. Only her schoolmates can save her.
But before we delve into the future whys and wherefores of Jack and Jill, let’s take a look back at the first four books and their roles therein. I think you’ll find that even when the terrible twins aren’t present they still hold influence over Eleanor West’s charges.
[Spoilers for the first four books.]
Every Heart a Doorway
Welcome to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Sometimes children go missing and sometimes they return…and sometimes who they are when they come back is very different from when they left. Those who wash up on the shores of the Home are not your typical returned child. Parents who cannot cope with their newly strange progeny—one who stands completely still for hours on end, who is a sugar rush incarnate, who consumes iron-rich foods or conducts creepy science experiments—relinquish responsibility and wait for the day when their child decides to be “normal” again.
Eleanor knows they are normal, just not in this world. These children weren’t kidnapped or runaways. They found their door and stepped through it to a life-altering adventure, just as Eleanor did years ago. She knows how rare it is for a child to find their door a second time.
After Nancy arrives, she still longs for the Halls of the Dead. Soon her roommate Sumi’s rambunctious nature pulls her into the orbit of a small but mighty group including Kade the tailor, Jill the vampire wannabe, Jack the mad scientist, Angela the runner, and Christopher the boy with the bone flute. But when Sumi and Loriel, a girl who can see very small things, are murdered, everyone is a suspect, even Nancy and Jack. Luckily for Seraphina, the planned third victim, she’s rescued just before Jill, the real killer, can finish her off. All Jill wanted was to force her door to reappear. In the end she got what she wanted, but not before being stabbed to death by her sister. Jack carries Jill through their door and into the Moors.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones
This is not the story of what happened after Jack carried Jill back into the Moors but what came before; this is the story of how they found their door the first time.
The Wolcotts wanted the perfect child and ended up with two. Jacqueline is favored and fawned over by her mother while Jillian is molded and doted on by her father. Their parents treat them more like dolls than children, and only their grandmother gives them the space they need to figure out who they really are. One day they find a trunk in the attic with a stairwell inside. At the bottom is a door with a sign on it: “BE SURE.” Through the door is an adventure waiting to happen, while a dreary life of restrictions and limitations await them at the top of the stairs. For the girls, there is no real choice but to forge ahead.
They enter the Moors, a world that exists “in the eternal twilight, in the pause between the lightning strike and the resurrection…a place of endless scientific experimentation, of monstrous beauty, and of terrible consequences.” Jill becomes the pet of the Master, a vampire who surrounds her in fine, frilly clothes she always wanted but was denied by her father. Jack is taken in by Dr. Bleak, a Victor Frankenstein-esque figure who allows his ward to wear pants and get her hands dirty in ways her mother would’ve forbidden. Jack learns and grows and falls in love with a village girl while Jill hardens and lashes out and mimics the cruelest of the Master’s tendencies. One sister takes the best that the Moors have to offer and the other the worst, but if you asked them they’d each have a different opinion as to who was who.
Jill destroys everything by breaking the rules and killing an innocent bystander, in this case Jack’s girlfriend Alexis. To save her from a brutal end at the hands of the furious villagers, Jack escapes with Jill to Dr. Bleak’s windmill. Much to Jack’s shock, he forces open a door; he’s had the ability to send them home this whole time. He gives Jack the secret to returning to the Moors and the girls step through. They left at twelve and returned at seventeen and nothing will ever be the same.
Beneath the Sugar Sky
When Sumi was murdered by Jill in Every Heart a Doorway, she was far too young to have been a mother. That doesn’t stop her daughter Rini from tumbling from the sky and into a turtle pond right in front of Cora, the newest arrival at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Rini needs help stopping the Queen of Cakes and bringing her mother back to life so she can save her world and, well, continue to exist. Quests are explicitly forbidden by Eleanor and Lundy, her second in command, but that doesn’t stop Cora, Nadya, Christopher, and Kade from digging up Sumi’s skeleton and following Rini through a door.
First stop is the Halls of the Dead. Nancy found her door there again at the very end of the first book, and the kids need her to find Sumi’s ghost. She does, but in exchange Nadya must stay behind. Her door back to the Drowned World has been just out of reach for years, but in the Halls of the Dead it is so close she can almost taste it. How could she pass up what may be her last chance to go home? The others continue to Rini’s world to find her mother’s soul.
Of course they’re quickly captured by the Queen of Cakes, a visitor from another world just like Sumi. But where Sumi relished the chaos, the Queen demands order. She loathes sugar as much as Rini adores it. Although Confection called her, it wasn’t the right world for her anymore than Kade was the right child to be a princess of Prism. Clever Cora defeats the Queen so Rini can lead them to the Baker, a young woman who “came through a door and started making things, and she’s been making things ever since.” The Baker gifts them with a resurrected Sumi and a door back to the school. Everything is set right again…or is it?
In an Absent Dream
We first met Lundy in Every Heart a Doorway as a woman aging backward. Her story is a tale of seemingly endless youth, boundless adventures, and well-crafted deals. As a child, Katherine Victoria Lundy was “pretty and patient and practical,” perfect for the Goblin Market world where the right deal can make or break you. There she befriends a wild girl named Moon and battles Bone Wraiths and the Wasp Queen. While she’s young, the consequences for making a bad deal and incurring debt are light, but as she grows they become harsher and more unforgiving. The more debt Moon collects, the less human she becomes. Lundy, unable to watch her friend suffer, takes on some of her debt. There’s a lesson here about dysfunctional rescuing and avoiding responsibility, but Lundy isn’t ready for it, not yet.
Unlike other worlds, the Goblin Market allows children to leave and return as often as they want. Except she crossed between worlds so much that she found herself a citizen in neither. Her family in the real world moved on without her, relegating her to a distant relative instead of a daughter and sister. And in the Goblin Market her friends saw her as someone who comes and goes, someone who could not be relied on. Not until they turn 18 do they have to choose which world they want to stay in. Lundy did just that. However, once that decision is made it cannot be undone, something Lundy learns the hard way. She tries to cheat the deal offered to her by the Goblin Market—to stay or go—and is cursed for it. Thankfully Eleanor West comes to her rescue.
Come Tumbling Down
Mad scientist Jack and her vampire-obsessed sister Jill make their bloody return in the latest Wayward Children book. There’s body-swapping, a deadly sibling rivalry, and yes another quest. What’s a sister to do when her twin does the worst thing imaginable?
Alex Brown is a teen services librarian by day, local historian by night, author and writer by passion, and an ace/aro Black woman all the time. Keep up with her on Twitter and Insta, or follow along with her reading adventures on her blog.