Thursday, September 9, 2010

Review: Plain Kate by Erin Bow

Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep magic. As the wood-carver's daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden charms are so fine that some even call her "witch-blade" -- a dangerous nickname in a town where witches are hunted and burned in the square.
For Kate and her village have fallen on hard times. Kate's father has died, leaving her alone in the world. And a mysterious fog now covers the countryside, ruining crops and spreading fear of hunger and sickness. The townspeople are looking for someone to blame, and their eyes have fallen on Kate.

Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: In exchange for her shadow, he'll give Kate the means to escape the town that seems set to burn her, and what's more, he'll grant her heart's wish. It's a chance for her to start over, to find a home, a family, a place to belong. But Kate soon realizes that she can't live shadowless forever -- and that Linay's designs are darker than she ever dreamed.

This is a deep story about death, persecution, belonging, trust and betrayal, gypsy clans, ghosts, and more. It is a dark book - at times a little too dark - but there are also spots of lightheartedness that have you smiling - especially when the talking cat is involved. Basically, it is a story about a young girl who is a gifted wood carver. Her mother dies at her birth and her father a few years later and she is left orphaned and homeless. Because of her gift with carving, the townsfolk begin to distrust her, then accuse her of being a witch. There is talk of burning her in order to save the town from bad luck. She escapes the town with the help of Roamers (gypsies) and a witch man who takes her shadow. She has to face situations that no twelve-year-old should have to face, but that is her fate. Set in medieval times and heavy with Russian flavor, it reads like an ancient fairy tale. It is well-written and pulls at the emotions.

Though not for every YA reader, those who enjoy darker tales akin to the Golden Compass might like this one. If you want light fare, this is not it. But for those who like darker, heavier stories, this is a good one.

Rating: 3 stars - difficult subjects, Russian fairy-tale theme, dark fantasy.

Vicky Burkholder

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