Review: Kingdom of Needle and Bone – Mira Grant

Review: Kingdom of Needle and Bone – Mira GrantKingdom of Needle and Bone
by Mira Grant
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Publication Date: December 31, 2018
Genres: Horror, Science Fiction
Pages: 128
Source: NetGalley

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

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.

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I’m not a big fan of the horror genre, but I cannot resist a Mira Grant novel.  For those not in the know, Mira Grant is one of Seanan McGuire’s pen names, and I’m a ridiculous superfan of hers.  The only other Mira Grant I’d read was her killer mermaids book, Into the Drowning Deep, which I absolutely adored, so even if the blurb didn’t initially sound like something in my wheelhouse, I was eager to read it.  Oh boy, I was not disappointed!

“A world that had been willing to reject the efficacy of vaccines suddenly found itself on the verge of being forced to live without them, and it was not prepared.”

Morris’ disease – named after the first known patient, Lisa Morris – has swept across the world, killing millions and leaving the survivors searching for answers.  Though most agree that the disease was too well-engineered to be anything other than a human creation, no group ever took credit for it, and most of the public blame falls on anti-vaxxers for weakening the herd immunity and allowing the pandemic to take hold and spread.  For Dr. Isabella Gauley, the disease has had both personal and professional ramifications, as Lisa was her niece and Izzy is one of the few remaining pediatricians, whose offices are protested at like today’s abortion clinics.  When shocking new ramifications of the disease are discovered, Izzy makes choices that both connect and separate her from her surviving sisters, Angela and Brooke.

“A single person could transform everything. She had started off doing everything she did for Lisa’s sake, and now, with Lisa gone, she was still doing it all for the little girl who had loved her, and trusted her, and died under her care.”

For me, this is a story about three sisters – Izzy, Angela, and Brooke – bound together by the death of their niece and daughter, Lisa.  Izzy focuses on being a doctor and trying to convince parents to vaccinate their (remaining) kids.  Brooke mourns her daughter in her own quiet way.  Angela, on the other hand, is drawn to vaccination activism, inciting the groups protesting outside Izzy’s office and always eager to provide another soundbite for the media.  While they’re each mourning Lisa, they do it in their own ways, often setting them at odds with each other.

“We have quarantine. Quarantine says that the government can impede your ordinary movement if you present a danger to others. Vaccination should be treated as something on the same level. You get vaccinated, not because you want to protect yourself, but because you want to be a part of society, and being a part of society means protecting everyone around you.”

The novella itself is quite addictive, and I devoured it in one sitting.  Ms. Grant is excellent at creating a sense of unease that permeates the book, even when the main characters are – should be – happy and hopeful, the sort of readerly equivalent of the feeling that there’s something hiding in the dark at the edges of your vision.  Her characters, too, leap off the page, including the main character, Dr. Isabella Gauley, who could’ve easily fallen into the typical mad scientist stereotype but instead has so much more depth.  I thought Ms. Grant did a great job also of giving enough medical background to make it chillingly realistic but not so much as to bog down the story.  The thought of some sort of superbug wiping out millions of people is, unfortunately, too realistic.  Unfortunately, it also turned into a bit of a screed about mandatory vaccination and bodily autonomy, and the whole anti-vax movement.  While I felt this was warranted, especially as we’re coming at it from the point of someone who’s failed to save so many children, it was a bit too much, and also the reason why I only rated this four stars instead of five.

“I’m really hoping that your desire to do good is going to outweigh your desire to follow the rules. So what do you say? Will the two of you run away from home with me, so that we can try to save the world?”

There’s a nice twist at the end of the novella that definitely put a new spin on the actions of certain characters throughout the book.  Who are the monsters? Is it the uncaring disease itself, the anti-vax crowd that lessened the herd immunity, the radical groups that have linked mandatory vaccinations with anti-abortion rhetoric, the parents who love their children enough to sacrifice them in order to save them?  And in trying to fight these monsters, how far do we go before we become monsters ourselves?

While I very much hope that Ms. Grant chooses to treat this as the beginning of a series, I also feel that it’s pretty well wrapped up in and of itself.  I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a quick and engrossing sci-fi horror read!

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