Monday, 10 October 2011

review: Plain Kate

by Erin Bow
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010
young adult fantasy

Plain Kate is a wood-carver's daughter and an orphan. An abnormal, lethal fog is spreading across the countryside, and with Kate's skill at the blade, the townspeople have started to point fingers her way. When a witch-white stranger named Linay offers her escape and her heart's wish in exchange for her shadow. Kate accepts, and so launches her journey to carve out a life of her own and save a city from one man's mad grief and love.
The cover:

I just say it over and over these days: illustrated covers rock. The warm yellow paired with the light green is a welcome shift from the orange-blue contrast designers adore, and the intricate detail in the illustration of the city is pure loveliness.

The book:

I'm still sniffing as I write this. :') Erin Bow has created a medieval land that is full of luck and superstition, magic and curses, but no less human for it. The lives of the Roamers (think of them like Gypsies) add an extra layer of depth to the world.

From the first chapter, Bow's eloquent writing enthralls. I'll quote for you rather than try to explain:
The cat looked up at her with the last trace of his broken heart, and then turned to look at the gold coins with simple gold-coin eyes. (p.310)

She was made of fog and shadow until Kate caught her eye, and then, all at once, she became human. She was young, mischievously sad, a fox in a story. (p. 199)

And Taggle, who was beautiful, who had never misjudged a jump in his life, leapt toward her with his forelegs out-flung. (p. 289)
Is that not pure beauty?

Plain Kate finds her way into the reader's confidence just as the prose brings the reader to their knees by the second page. Her grittiness and down-to-earth perspective makes her someone who we're sure will persevere. Especially with Taggle, the cat who talks, by her side. Oh, Taggle. I solemnly swear upon the tears he brought that he will steal your heart and break it. Into a bazillion pieces. <3

Even Linay, crazed person extraordinaire, will get you on his side. The sorrow and grief he transofrms into revenge and madness can be solidified in his "heartbroken, startled laugh she'd tricked from him once or twice before" (p. 285), and: "On the paper, in a hand so fierce it threatened to topple and break like a wave, Linay had written: Kate. I hope you live." (p. 310) *sniffs*

This is ultimately a tale of death and living and sorrow set in a storyworld that somehow ends up meaning so much more than any contemporary novel set around grief that I've read.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5