A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

{February 26, 2012}   Plain Kate by Erin Bow

Plot: Plain Kate wielded a carving knife before she could walk. Her skill with wood is greater than that of  most master carvers. When her town is threatened by hunger and illness, people start looking for someone to blame. A witch-eyed orphan with an uncanny skill for her craft like Kate is a perfect candidate for a witch-burning. To save herself, Kate makes a deal with a dangerous stranger: her shadow for her heart’s desire. But she soon finds that she has made a very bad deal.

Bow won the TD Canadian Children’s Award for this book and she truly deserves it. This is a magical and moving debut. By the end, I was sobbing uncontrolably.

When I started reading this novel, I immediately thought of Diana Wynne Jones. Orphans, cats, dangerous magic and unreliable adults are all hallmarks of Jones’ worlds. Bow weaves a tale worthy of Jones but her story is much darker and concludes less happily. She looks at the ways in which fear, suffering and superstition can break down bonds of trust and make people do terrible things, witch-burnings for example. Through the Roamers with whom Kate escapes, Bow ties her story to the very real persecutions experienced by the Romani people. In the midst of all this is a brave, lonely girl who continues to move forward in spite of loss, betrayal and pain.

Kate’s story is beautifully constructed and perfectly balances humour, friendship and domesticity with magic, horror and sacrifice. It is, in a way, a fairy tale (of the dark, Brothers Grimm variety): Kate makes an unwise deal which leads her on a hero’s quest with a magical companion; everything and everyone is connected and nothing is due to chance; and in the end only she can stop the dark magics that she set in motion.

This novel also has one of the most delightful feline companions that I have ever encountered. Taggle is very cat-like: proud, independent, intelligent and bossy. His dialogue (yes, he talks) regularly had me in stitches. He also loves Kate fiercely and defends her by claw and tooth. You could not have a better animal companion on a magical adventure.

Bow is working on several other books at the moment: Sorrow’s Knot (Fall 2012), Children of the Peace and The Teleportation of Gilbert Perez. You can find out more about them on her site. I’m trembling with excitement.

2012 (#23)


Em says:

That trailer looks epic. Definitely adding this to my to-read.

FYI, I’ve given you the Liebster award. Link is here–http://easyreadinganddamnhardwriting.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/on-very-late-thank-yous-and-blogs-you-should-certainly-pay-a-visit/ :3

roguelibrarian says:

Thank you Em! That’s so nice of you. ^_^

[…] also features one of the best cats in fiction, second only to the one in Plain Kate. He is fickle, self-centered and wise with real cat logic and he refuses to be […]

[…] Bow’s first novel, Plain Kate was a brilliant, unique fantasy; I cannot say enough good things about it. Sorrow’s Knot is a […]

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