Plain Kate - Erin Bow

I can’t remember where I first read about Plain Kate and I wish I could, because the reader said some great things about the father-daughter relationship and the nature of art, much more elegantly than I’m able to. But it was enough to spark my interest, and Arthur A. Levine Books was kind enough to send me a review copy.

This may be my favorite book on the first Stories About Girls list (though there are a few close seconds). It starts off in the medieval village of Samilae, where Kate’s father is the master woodcarver. Kate is too young to be an apprentice yet, but already she has the makings of a master carver herself—which causes the superstitious villagers to suspect her of witchcraft. But then comes the skara rok, the bad time, and people died. They called it the “witch’s fever” and despite the fact that Kate’s own father died from it, suspicions grew stronger.

Finally, after the whisperings led to an outright attack, Kate decided it was time to leave Samilae and strike out on her own—though she has nothing much besides her carving knife and a gray cat named Taggle. Impulsively, she strikes a deal with the mysterious stranger Linay, who offers grant her heart’s wish and a few needed supplies in exchange for her shadow.

Plain Kate is beautiful and it’s tragic. It is about learning who you are, making hard decisions and not taking the easy way out. If you’re looking for a strong female character, Kate is a perfect fit—she’s skilled and smart, and as a young girl has to rely on something other than physical strength to find her way through a hostile world. For a time she travels with the Roamers, a band of gypsies, but they begin to mistrust her when it’s discovered that she has no shadow. And as for Linay, he has his own sinister purposes in mind and Kate struggles to find a way to stop him.

I could go on and on about what I like about Plain Kate, but I’ll keep it to these things: first, I love the world that Bow has created for Kate to live in. There’s a familiarity about it, a sort of aged feeling that makes you believe it when the characters talk about customs and old rules and the ways of magic. There is a cost to things—the sacrifices that Kate and others make are not made lightly and are definitely not cheap. And then there’s Taggle, who is perfectly cat but also much more than a cat. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a cat in a book so much since Neil Gaiman’s Coraline (which, incidentally, is another great book about a girl but will have to wait for the next list).

For an example of Bow’s writing and to get a taste of the book, you can read the first chapter on her website—and then be ready to go get a copy because you’ll be wanting more by the end of it.

Note: this review was originally written for GeekDad as part of my Stories About Girls series.

Fed to jonathan's brain | January 21, 2011 | Comments (0)


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