Monday, October 18, 2010
Review: Plain Kate by Erin Bow
Plain Kate’s life is forever changed when her carver father dies and she is left to her own resources. Plain Kate survives by carving pieces of wood into charms, but people are still wary of her tremendous carving skill. Rumors of her being a witch increase when a stranger by the name of Linay starts to pay attention to her. Running out of options, Plain Kate makes a deal with Linay: she will give him her shadow in exchange for provisions to leave her increasingly unfriendly town.
Armed with her carving knife, meager possessions, and a wry talking cat, Plain Kate joins up with a group of Roamers and tries to leave her past behind. However, magical troubles keep on following her and hurting those she cares about, and Plain Kate begins to realize that giving up her shadow, she may have gotten herself with magic much darker than anything she wanted…
I am possibly the furthest from objectivity in reviewing this book, because epic, magically written fantasy adventure novels sweep me off my feet each and every time, leaving me drowning in my own puddle of envious, awed, and enraptured drool. PLAIN KATE channels the good old-fashioned writing of fantasy queens such as Robin McKinley to conjure up an astonishing world that flavorfully blends together folklore and magic, both in content and writing style.
Truth be told, I would’ve read this book solely for its language. Reading Erin Bow’s words is like reading a generations-old fairy tale, passed down from parent to child again and again. The book has a poetic soul at heart, and without the language, I’m pretty sure the magic of this story wouldn’t have been the same. I fell in love with the writing from the first page, and savored each paragraph of PLAIN KATE like I would decadent, heartwarming chocolate.
The plot doesn’t quite have the epicness that I adore in beautifully written fantasy adventures, but is enjoyable nonetheless. Like her name, Plain Kate is a no-nonsense girl: here is someone who has had to deal with loss and prejudice her whole life, and thus she doesn’t have time to waste on ambiguous hormonal teenage issues, which is almost refreshing in a YA book. Taggle, Plain Kate’s cat, adds much-needed humor breaks throughout the book, with his wry cat comments that anyone who has come in contact with cats before can most certainly relate to.
The story moves slowly, even as the characters travel far, preferring instead to spend time on the language rather than on specific physical action. The parts containing Linay and his sinister plans are a bit confusing—again, probably because I was, uh, too spellbound by the writing to get a solid hold on the story’s main magical conflict.
Despite that, I would read this book again and again, if only to savor Erin Bow’s words when I need a touch of beauty in my life. If you, like me, like falling under the spell of beautiful fantasy writing, then PLAIN KATE is a must-read. Kate’s story will make you fall in love with this genre all over again.
Sarah Beth Durst
Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Cover discussion: 4 out of 5 - I love love love what the cover evokes: an otherworldly, almost historical fantasy feel. I just wish there was some of Kate's woodcarving in it.
Scholastic / Sept. 1, 2010 / Hardcover / 336pp. / $17.99
Review copy received from publisher.