Plot: Otter lives in a town besieged by the dead. Only the knots of the binders keep the living safe. Otter’s mother is one of the greatest binders who ever lived but something has gone wrong: the knots are coming undone and a mythical white hands is roaming the woods. Otter and her friends must go on a dangerous quest to the home of the first binder and find out what has gone wrong.
Erin Bow’s first novel, Plain Kate was a brilliant, unique fantasy; I cannot say enough good things about it. Sorrow’s Knot is a very different kind of fantasy but every bit as good. Bow’s second novel takes place in a matriarchal world inspired by Native American mythology and life styles (though it does not represent any specific real life tribe) which is a nice change from medieval European fantasies. (Bow admits with a bit of embarrassment that the story almost took place in such a world, it even had a blacksmith and everything ;).)
The narrative is built around traditions, secrets and the power of stories. And while Otter’s knots hold a powerful (and fascinating) magic, it is the stories that are weaved throughout the novel that ultimately save them. Otter and her two friends, Kestrel and Cricket, are coming to age in a difficult time. They show great courage in the face of the dangers of the wild and the dead but also in defying the traditions of their tribe.
I was also charmed by the romance. Part of what made it interesting is that this is a world where people do not mate for life as some animals do. They are also slow romances, built out of friendship and they give the story real heart. But a warning: as in her previous novel, Bow had me sobbing in public at one point.
Another great fantasy by a great Canadian author. Highly recommended.