Kingdom of Needle and Bone: Preachy, but interesting

Kingdom of Needle and Bone by Mira Grant science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsKingdom of Needle and Bone by Mira Grant science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsKingdom of Needle and Bone by Mira Grant

Lisa Morris, Patient Zero, is only eight years old when she contracts a mutated and vicious form of measles, infects hundreds of other people while visiting Disney World, and dies. The disease races across the planet, killing millions, because “the virus always spreads.”

Lisa’s Aunt Isabella, a pediatrician who feels guilty about Lisa’s death, goes on a crusade to protect those who haven’t yet been exposed to the virus. Her pediatric clinic is targeted by anti-vaxxers, but she continues to champion — and try to explain — herd immunity. Then her youngest sister discovers something even more terrifying than the obvious initial effects of the new virus, making Isabella change course and launch an elaborate plan that may not be entirely ethical but just may save the human race.

Mira Grant’s novella Kingdom of Needle and Bone (2018) asks some interesting questions. What would happen if the human race lost its herd immunity and was in danger of being exterminated by mutating viruses? And if that happened, what would be required to get that immunity back again? And how could we do this without revoking each person’s autonomy over their own body? Grant shows us that these are not easy questions, that people will have different views, and that ethical lines may need to be crossed.

Kingdom of Needle and Bone by Mira Grant science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsUnfortunately, much of the novella reads like an angry tirade against anti-vaxxers. Grant gives us numerous lectures about herd immunity, while also laying out the philosophical arguments in favor of bodily autonomy. Grant also throws in a few swipes at those who claim that their religious beliefs bar vaccinations, without explaining the religious concerns. Generally, Grant discusses interesting ideas, but sometimes makes them difficult to evaluate because they are delivered by unpleasant characters who are more interested in beating down their opponents than having thoughtful discourse.

In fact, that’s the problem with the entire novella — it is like a brick to the head and is more likely to offend than persuade. We are avid supporters of Grant’s purpose here — to persuade people to vaccinate their children — but when characterization and description take a back-seat to the agenda, it’s hard to view this novella as much more than a piece of propaganda, and that isn’t going to help the cause.

There’s a surprising (but not completely unforeseen) twist at the end of Kingdom of Needle and Bone. There must be a sequel coming and, though there were things we didn’t like about this story, we’d both like to know what happens next.

Kat listened to the Tantor Audio’s edition of Kingdom of Needle and Bone which is 3 hours long. Cris Dukehart, the narrator, does a nice job.

Print published in 2018, Audio published in 2019. 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.Kingdom of Needle and Bone by Mira Grant science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviews

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She longs to be a full-time reviewer, critic, scholar and writer, but nonetheless continues to practice law as a civil litigator in California. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, the imperious but aging Cordelia Louise Cat Weyna-White, and a forever-growing personal library that presently exceeds 15,000 volumes.

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One comment

  1. I was excited when I read the first paragraph of this post because this is such a timely topic… and so disappointed when I got to the end of the review.

    I wish this talented writer had focused more on the story and the characters and delved more deeply into the different points of view. It reminds me of “Vigilance,” by RJ Bennett; an angry propaganda piece by one of my favorite writers.

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