October 17, 2010

Plain Kate: In A Nutshell

Plain Kate by Erin Bow
Plain Kate has a way with a knife; she trusts her hands to carve the truth. Taught by her father, she makes a living at it, selling luck charms to the people in her village. She's not a witch – although her talent is so great it seems like magic, and whispers about her are plentiful.

And then a man enters her life who wants more than just a carving: he wants her shadow. In exchange, he'll grant her deepest wish. He's different, he's desperate, and he'll turn the town against her.
Kate is forced to give in, but soon enough she realizes the price. No one will trust a shadow-less girl. Trouble is, a bargain's a bargain, and it will cost Kate dearly if she wishes to get her shadow back...and stop the man from using it for his own ends.

One sentence sum-up: A story about magic, friendship, sacrifice and shadows.

My reaction: Erin Bow has a way with words. I was reminded very much of Lloyd Alexander's style of storytelling (The Rope Trick and The Iron Ring in particular come to mind) as I read Plain Kate. She creates a mysterious world that evokes images of gypsies and caravans, and strong but complex characters. However, some of the writing seemed a bit choppy, and more variety in sentence structure and length might have made for smoother reading.

You can't help but sympathize with Plain Kate – the poor girl is forced to endure so many hardships, but she perseveres. At first I was a little leery of the talking cat, but I found that Taggle wormed his way into my heart. So much so, in fact, that a couple of scenes involving him made me cry a little (and not too many books do that!) And the author got me to feel sorry for the villain at one point...he's very three-dimensional, which is always fabulous to see in the so-called 'bad guy.' I did find the plot somewhat slow-moving through at least the first half, but I kept picking up the book to read more.

Also, I can't quite decide if I agree with one part of the ending or not. Big spoilers if you highlight the white text: I seriously thought that Taggle was going to die for good, and though I was sad about it, I thought it made sense and had an emotional impact. Then he got raised back to life...which I wasn't so sure about. I was going in my head, "Really? Isn't that a little too convenient, making for a nice happy ending?" But I did appreciate that it was explained with the same rules of magic the author used all along. And it made me cry again when Taggle lost the ability to speak...so I'm torn.

Best aspect: The creative conceptualization of how magic works in this world. The idea that it is an exchange makes sense and gives the reader some structure in understanding it. Also, I liked the way everything was connected; the climactic scenes use some elements introduced earlier in the book and by the end the story feels like it has come full circle. Plus, a YA with no romance and no sequels needed? That's rare.  

If I could change something... Hmmmm...well, I sometimes found that Taggle's lines (while providing some needed lightness) were a bit too comical when placed right after a serious remark from someone else. And the ending came rather suddenly – I wanted a bit more resolution when it came to Kate's relationships with Drina and Behjet, and maybe a glimpse at her future.

Also, I enjoyed many of the similes/metaphors, but I think there were more than necessary in there (and a few of them seemed kind of obscure.)

In five words or less: mystical, sad, and compelling.


"What do you want, Linay?" It was the first time she'd said his name. It tasted powerful.

"The dead, you know, are hungry. Those that do not rest. They are hungry all the time and cannot even eat grass." He was halfway to singing again. He seemed to stop himself. "They have mouths the size of needles' eyes and stomachs the size of mountains. It is a terrible fate."

Recommend for: anyone who wants to read a story with a simple but fresh take on magic, complex characters and the lilting feel of a legend.

Final verdict: 4 shooting stars

Author's website: http://erinbow.com/

Note: I won this book in a giveaway.


  1. i love the way you structured this review. it's really see what kind of book it is - I've seen mixed reviews on this one and am unsure if it's my kind of thing or not?

  2. Thanks for the review! I'm interested about you crying in this one. If an animal is going to talk, I'd believe it most from a cat. Those critters are smart and probably already do, they just don't want to stoop down to our level. I also love the three dimensional bad guy. Any story that makes you feel something for the other side has to be good.

  3. It's good to know what you thought about the book. Glad you liked it even though, as you say, it is a little slow at the beginning.

  4. I love the way you structured this review, it was really well done. I loved Plain Kate for many of the same reasons that you listed. I agree with you about the ending..I wasn't so sure either.

  5. Great review! It seems very fair and balanced. I was kind of iffy on the talking cat too (though I don't quite know why, since Grim from The Iron King is my hero lol) but I'm glad it worked! This novel seems so unique - I love the way you describe it as "the lilting feel of a legend"! Beautiful =) Thank you for the honest review!


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