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Plain Kate

A book by Erin Bow

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darker than I was prepared for

  • Nov 21, 2010
Rating:
+2
A long time ago, in a market town by a looping river, there lived an orphan girl called Plain Kate.

Plain Kate, Kate the Carver. No one's friend and no one's daughter. Little Kate might meet her fate whittling sticks till it's too late.

Kate's shadow is long and her talents with a knife are great. Taught by her father, Plain Kate can draw the truth out of any piece of wood with skill and her knife, not with magic.

But in a town looking for someone to blame for the bad times, a little skill can start to look a lot like magic. And in a town where witches are feared and burned, working magic with a knife--even if that magic isn't really magic--can be a very dangerous thing.

As things go from bad to worse in her small market town, Kate knows she has to leave. But you need money and food to go anywhere. So Kate makes a deal with the mysterious stranger passing through town.

In exchange for her shadow he can give her what she needs, and grant her heart's wish. All Kate really wants is to get away, so she agrees. But as Kate sets out with her provisions and her cat, Taggle, she soon realizes she can't live without her shadow for long. But Kate isn't a witch and her only magic is a talent for carving. Will that be enough to help Kate change the course of things and get her shadow back in Plain Kate (2010) by Erin Bow?

Plain Kate is Erin Bow's first novel.

Bow blends element of traditional folk tales with her own lore to create a unique world for this dark fantasy. Kate is a carver through and through, a fact that the writing returns to again and again as Kate works on her carvings and views her surroundings through a carver's eyes.

The writing here is lyrical and evocative, making up for a story that became somewhat scattered in the second half of the book. Plain Kate will easily appeal to anyone looking for a traditional fantasy but be warned: this is a story that is very grim even in the midst of its flights of fancy.

I loved the book trailer for Plain Kate but I hesitate to mention it because I think it's misleading in terms of how very, very dark this book really is. Now might also be a good time to mention that I really enjoyed the cover art for this title by Juliana Kolesova even though it (again) suggested a much more whimsical story than this really was.

This dichotomy between the cover/trailer and the actual story also makes it hard to determine my own feelings about the book. I can see the merits of the writing and the premise. The world Bow created is wonderfully developed. All the same, I found the contrast between the story I was expecting and the story I got to be so jarring that I cannot love it as wholeheartedly as I thought I would.

I see great things in this book's future, but part of me still wishes it had been the lighter-toned, more whimsical book I had initially expected.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Fire by Kristin Cashore, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

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Ranked #204
Reader, writer, blogger.      I have a master's in library science and information systems and am currently searching for a librarian position.      You can … more
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Wiki

Gr 4-8–When Kate's wood-carver father dies, she is left to support herself with her woodworking talent while living in her father's former market stall with a cat named Taggle. When Linay, a mysterious and magical stranger, comes to town and buys Kate's shadow, he gives her the money she needs to escape her village home, where people are blaming her for the hard times that have fallen on them. It is rumored that her talent comes from magic, but Kate's journey leads to unexpected consequences and danger for her and the Roamer family whom she joins. It's up to Kate; her new friend, Drina; and Taggle to defeat Linay with their own magic, as they come to discover the truth about his past and his desire for revenge. Kate's journey involves physical, mental, and magical growth, presenting a character who truly matures and changes over the course of her story, and the bittersweet conclusion reflects honest choices and Kate's newfound strength. Supporting characters, from villagers to the tormented Linay, are presented realistically and move the story forward smoothly. Bow's first novel shows a solid control of story and characters, and the careful and evocative writing reflects her work as a published poet.Beth L. Meister, Milwaukee Jewish Day School, WI
© Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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Details

ISBN-10: 0545166640
ISBN-13: 978-0545166645
Author: Erin Bow
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books

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