What I’m Reading: PLAIN KATE by Erin Bow

A beautifully poetic tale of one plain girl and some very dark shadows.

Summary from the inside jacket:

As the wood-carvers daughter, Plain Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden charms are so fine that some even call her “witch-blade” – a dangerous nickname in a town where witches are hunted. For Kate and her village have fallen on hard times. Kate’s father has died, leaving her alone in the world. And a mysterious fog now covers the countryside, ruining crops and spreading fear of hunger and sickness. The townspeople are looking for someone to blame, and their eyes have fallen 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…But Kate soon realizes that she can’t live shadowless forever – and that Linay’s designers are darker than she ever dreamed.

The one and only Caroline Richmond recommended this book to me. I now owe her a book suggestion and am fearful she will have to wait a very long time for me to find a book that lives up to this one.

It may be impossible for me to explain how much I loved this novel. The story is innocent and yet incredibly dark at the same time. The world is rich and layered, the characters diverse and believable. And the prose. Erin Bow can spin the most beautiful, lyrical images and do it in a way that reads effortlessly. And then there was the feeling – the odd, looming, heavy yet slow melancholy that followed me as I read this book. I don’t even know how to explain it, only that it hooked me within the first pages and didn’t let go until I closed the book.

Kate’s tale is heart-wrenching and gets worse long before it gets better. She is a strong, capable heroine that refuses to relinquish hope – even if her future appears nothing but bleak. And her cat, Taggle, is a larger than life character. My goodness. What a relationship Bow was able to weave between these two. Honest, loving, filled with bits of humor. I felt so much for the both of them. I also loved that the “bad guy” in this story (Linay), was not all bad. As you learn more about this character you understand his motives, even if you do not approve of them, and I think this brought a large amount of realism to a fantastical world. We are often shades of gray, people, and I loved that this villian had a side the reader could pity just a little.

There is something in the simplicity of this novel that feels MG, but then there is the dark and dismal side of Kate’s tale that feels anything but. The best I can do is say this feels like a page out of Grimm’s fairy tales. You should read it. You really should. I have a copy I can lend you, but you might just want to go buy it. Trust me, you want this one on your shelf.

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