I got an advanced reading copy of this book through the Amazon Vine Program. I had heard great things about this book and it sounded like a wonderful fairytale-like premise. It was a great book. It starts out a little slow but ends up being a finely crafted and engaging story.
Plain Kate is raised by her dad who is a woodcarver, from a very young age Kate practices carving and is set to become her dad’s apprentice. Then a sickness rages through the village and her father dies. With everything her family owned going to the new carver from the Guild, Kate is left to fend on her own. She is a very good carver; so despite displacement from the guild she manages to eke out a living in the village with her only companionship being her cat, Taggle. Then one day a man, Linay, shows up. He wants Kate to do some carving for him and he wants her shadow. He forces events so that Kate is driven out of her village and accused of being a witch; he trades her shadow for her heart’s desire. Kate ends up fleeing with her now talking cat Taggle. Kate must struggle to survive and on top of that she finds that Linay may be out to do great evil with her shadow; it is up to her to stop him.
I will admit when I first started reading this book I found it to be a bit…well plain and boring. It is written in a very un-embellished style and written about a very plain girl. The style of the story is a cross between being folkish and fairy tale-like. When you start it you are kind of wondering what the point is and why we are following Plain Kate around as she ekes out a living in her village or makes a living among the Roamers (a gypsy-like people).
Towards the middle though, Kate is forced to make some tough decisions and fight through some dire situations and things get a lot more interesting. As the story continues many of the seemingly random elements from the beginning come together to form a very cohesive and engaging story of death, betrayal, and sacrifices. There is some violence in the form of witch hunts and people being burned alive.
Parts of the story are especially touching. The companionship Kate enjoys with her talking cat Taggle is cute, funny, and heartwarming. The sacrifices Kate and Taggle are forced to make to stop great evil are heartbreaking and had me in tears. As I progressed through the novel I found my reaction of cool indifference to the first half of the book transforming into an absolute love of these characters and admiration for how well put together this story was.
This story is written in more of a folk tale or fairy tale kind of way. The words are simple, the description is minimal, and Kate herself is not a complex character. There are fairly clear distinctions between good and evil; but even, Linay, as the villain of the story has a history that makes you sympathize with him some. By the time I got to the end of this book I realized that these seemingly simple characters had more complexity to them than I initially gave credit for.
Overall, I ended up loving this story and it is a keeper for me. The fairy tale like cast to it all, the Russian folklore included, and the companionship that develops between Kate and Taggle make it something special. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I highly recommend to people who love the darker fairy tales and stories about plain girls overcoming great odds. It is appropriate for all ages, although it does address burning people alive as witches, so that may be too scary for younger kids. I loved this story and Erin Bow is definitely on my list as an author to watch.