Monday, October 18, 2010

Review: Plain Kate by Erin Bow

Tags: YA, fantasy, adventure, magic, Russian folklore, woodcarving


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.

Similar Authors
Malinda Lo
Robin McKinley
Sarah Beth Durst

Writing: 5/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 3/5

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.


  1. "Reading Erin Bow’s words is like reading a generations-old fairy tale, passed down from parent to child again and again. "


    *sniff* Going to cry again thinking about the story. I loved this book so much!!

  2. Wonderful review -- you make me want to read this one! I especially loved your line "...sweep me off my feet each and every time, leaving me drowning in my own puddle of envious, awed, and enraptured drool." VERY good imagery -- I appreciate passionate readers!

  3. I wasn't so sure about reading this, but thanks to your review, I plan to put this book at the top of my books-to-purchase list. It sounds lovely!

  4. You gave it 4.5! I'm excited to read this one because of all the good reviews that I've seen. Plus, I'm a huge fan of Robin McKinley and that style of writing. I hope I get to pick it up from the local bookstore soon.

  5. Maybe it's because I'm getting older, but lately I've found myself much more willing to finish a book with a slow-moving plot if it has beautiful language. This sounds like just that sort of book---intriguing and lovely. I plan to check it out!

  6. I've fallen in love with Plain Kate too! I'd give it five of five stars. But you are oh so right about the gorgeous language!


  7. Great review! I can't wait to read this for Cybils Round II. :)

    I'll be featuring your review on the Cybils blog this Friday!

  8. I feel exactly the same way.... very jealous of my sister whom no matter how fast she gets through a book, understands the plot completely. Five out of five stars for Plain Kate. This book is the definition of "perfect" for me. The writing is very poetic and old-fashioned, and the cat is just adorable and funny.


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