by Erin Bow
I won this in a contest and I was totally psyched to read this! Although I do really enjoy fantasy novels, I haven't read many this year.. glad I could get a chance with this one :)
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 talismans are so fine that some even call her “witch-blade”: a dangerous nickname in a country where witches are hunted and burned in the square.
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 angry town, 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 she can't live shadowless forever -- and that Linay's designs are darker than she ever dreamed.
My Expectations: I read some really postiive reviews so I hoped it would be good. My expectations weren't through the roof though.
Delivery: Well done :) A solid novel that started out shaky but turned out great.
The way Plain Kate ended was way different than what I was expecting when I first picked up the novel. Initially, the reading experience was disengaging; I couldn’t really get a feel of the world Bow was trying to create and it was a bit difficult to fully grasp the character of Kate. It wasn’t the ideal start, plus I don’t know why but it felt very Middle-Grade during the beginning. I think I might have started expecting more of a moral story, younger characters, and a lighter plot. Man, was I wrong!
As everything starts snowballing, the plot starts rolling with action and suspense. I didn’t think the shadow-witch thing was gonna be a big deal (like I said, I thought it was going to be an MG fantasy adventure) but the way the stakes began to rise made for an exhilarating ride. The setting was very solid, I thought it was quite traditional and included those fantasy and magical aspects that I don't see often enough. I love how the author dipped into more serious themes more than once, fearlessly including themes of sacrifice, loneliness, friendship and choices.
The dominating aspect is undoubtedly Kate herself, who shows she is anything but plain. Kate embodies so much spirit and courage but she isn’t perfect, she makes mistakes and gives in to things she shouldn’t. She isn’t this rocket that barrels her way to her goal; she undergoes an arduous and painful journey that just makes me love her more.
However on the flip side, Linay… Linay Linay Linay… man, did I underestimate you. One-dimensional? Heck NO. This particular antagonist stands out because he is just as fleshed out, if not more, than our heroine. His motives and actions are sympathetic and refreshingly written, not just a ‘bad guy for the heck of having one’ type of character.
The language in this book isn't what I was expecting (and have become used to after oh-so-many angtsy YA Contemps), it had that old-school style that takes you back to the presumed 'roots' of fantasy: poetic and graceful, full of dignity. I applaud Bow, it always felt as if she has complete control over her prose.
The only drawback I can think of is that I do wish the fantasy world was a bit more rich. I loved the idea of the Roamers and the markets and such, but I missed the general ‘sense of being in the middle of someplace fantastical’ that I adore in this genre, if you get what I mean.
To finish on a high note, the ending was great. It was a crazy ride to get there, no doubt, but definitely worth it in the end. I also want to say, OMG Taggle the talking cat is awesome. Totally wicked, rivalling.. dare I say it? Manchee from the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness.
Rating in HP Terms: Exceeds Expectations
Recommended for: definitely for fans of fantasy and magic, even those reluctant readers :)
Acknowledgments: tearjerker, a beauty. 5/5
8.7/10 – because it started off slow and I thought the world-building could have been a bit better presented. That said, it was a really enjoyable YA fantasy book with a lovable protagonist and a beautifully crafted storyline. The journey Kate takes to get her shadow back is original and intricate, plus there's delicate prose and a great cat. A-
source: won from Maybe Tomorrow
author website / twitter
PS- I added yet another category to my review, "acknowledgements." Based on how well I think the author thanked everybody. Yes authors, I do read these.
PPS-The 'village to raise a child' is a cliche, and I will dock points if you do resort to this. Your thoughts?