by Erin Bow
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
A debut novel that's as sharp as a knife's point. Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep magic. As the wood-carver's daughter, 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 and burned in the square.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
This book has been sitting in my TBR pile for years. I finally got around to picking it up... and do I ever wish I had done it sooner! I've been torturing myself with bad books when I could have been reading this?
Please, dear author, I want some more...
This book is such a refreshing change from most of the YA I've read recently. The main reason is that it has no romance. I've grown so accustomed to seeing romance in YA novels that every time a male between the ages of 15 and 30 came on the page, I would wonder if he was going to be the love interest! But, no. There's no romance in this book at all... but there is love. Love is a major theme that runs throughout the story. Love between family. Love between friends. Love for art. That theme twines itself around every character and event in the story, making a complex and highly readable tale.
The interesting characters really drive this story along. Katerina (aka Plain Kate) is plain but not ordinary. She is unique in appearance and she's a highly skilled wood carver. She knows she's good, but she neither brags incessantly nor annoys the reader with false modesty. Because of her skill, the people of her town thinks she must be a witch... an impression that isn't helped when she sells her shadow to an actual witch and acquires a talking cat. Now, about that cat... I really love Taggle as a character. Talking animal characters, especially when they're combined with humans (as opposed to a world where all the animals just talk to each other and it's a normal thing), are not my favourite. They can come across as silly if they're not done right. But Taggle is done right. He's very obviously a cat, from his mannerisms to his turns of phrase. He's probably my favourite character in the whole book... and since I'm not a cat person at all, that's saying something.
The Russian-like setting and incorporation of magic remind me a little of Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone... but after reading both, I feel that Plain Kate is by far the better book. The villain is much more nuanced and complex, with understandable motivations, and I found myself not knowing whether to hate him or feel sorry for him.
It's all a matter of taste...
There's really not much I disliked about this book... except for the synopsis. It barely tells us anything about what the book is really about. Had I known it was such a good story with such unforgettable characters, I wouldn't have put it off for so long. I hate to think that people might have passed this book by simply because of the less-than-engaging synopsis.
Let's get technical...
Aside from a few tiny grammatical mistakes (some of which might have been merely typos), this was a very well-written book. I don't have many complaints.
I wish I had read this book back when I purchased it. It's one of the best books I've read so far this year. I highly recommend it!
He smiled at her. "Do you know what happens to witches, Plain Kate? Have you seen the fires?"
The sour smell from the smokehouse suddenly seemed stronger. "Over a few fish?" Plain Kate tried a laugh; it came out tight.
"Well," said Linay with a bow, "there might be more."
"Go away. Or I'll set my cat on you."
And he went away. But not very far.
Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5 ladybugs