It sometimes takes me a while to ‘catch on’ and read a fantastic book. It might get all of the accolades in the world, but if I haven’t been seduced by the cover art or simply think to myself, “that sounds good, I should read it” and immediately act on the impulse, it can take years to rise to the top of my To Be Read (TBR) pile.
As you may suppose from the title of this post, such was the case with Erin Bow’s Plain Kate. I heard nothing but good things about it, especially from Shelf Elf and bookshelves of doom (two blogs I trust implicitly for recommendations, and you should too. they know their books, yo. yes, i just said yo. i’m ashamed.). Thankfully, I remembered that I wanted to read it as I was perusing Kindle recommendations on the Metro platform. I frequently make impulsive reading decisions during my commute. Good ones, mostly. But let’s get back to Plain Kate!
A knife-sharp debut novel that leaves its mark.
Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep magic. When Kate's village falls on hard times - crops fail, and even Kate's father falls victim to a deadly fever - the townspeople look for someone to blame, and their eyes fall on Kate.
Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: In exchange for her shadow, he'll give Kate the means to escape the town that seems set to burn her, and what's more, he'll grant her heart's wish. It's a chance for her to start over, to find a home, a family, a place to belong. But Kate soon realizes that she can't live shadowless forever – and that Linay's designs are darker than she ever dreamed.
Plain Kate is a woodcarver’s daughter from a tiny village somewhere in the middle of Russia. Her skill with a knife brings her mingled returns: when her father dies, it’s her living, but it is also her curse, for her fellow villagers believe her a witch. When life becomes too dangerous in her birthplace, Kate is forced to make a dark bargain, and sets out into the world, accompanied by her cat Taggle.
Most young adult and middle grade books address the theme of finding a place in the world. What the best of them do is show the reader that that process never ends. Erin Bow not only writes beautifully and evocatively of loss, friendship and choices made in desperation, but she has populated her story with characters who are brave, cowardly, reckless, mad and kind – all of the flavors of humanity.
Added to that, Plain Kate has a storyline that continuously builds tension, that seems both unbearably sad and incredibly hopeful, and that leaves room for both folly and redemption. It is quite simply a lovely book, and it is too good to miss.
Recommended for: fans of Patricia C. Wrede’s Lyra books and Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s The Moorchild, those with a penchant for outcasts, cats and/or gypsies, and anyone looking for a strong, affecting fantasy without a typical romance but imbued with heart.