Published September 1, 2010.
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 talismans are so fine that some even call her “witch-blade”: a dangerous nickname in a country 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 angry town, 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 she can’t live shadowless forever — and that Linay’s designs are darker than she ever dreamed. (goodreads.com)
I love it when stories like this get it right. The voice, the execution, the plot, it all just fit so nicely together that I couldn’t imagine any other way it could have been written.
The voice itself is that older story-telling type of voice; kind of whimsical and fanciful but it’s not patronizing. The voice serves a purpose, in an old timey sort of way, but it doesn’t get in the way of the story itself. It stands out at the beginning when the setting’s being set and the story is winding up but it knew when to draw itself into the background and let the story be itself. The writing didn’t get in the way of the plot and I couldn’t help but love the book more for it.
Plain Kate is your standard orphan that gets kicked around for most of the story. She falls on hardship after hardship but unlike other like-minded stories that may gloss over the facts, Bow didn’t cut corners. She told what needed to be told regardless of how hard it might have been to tell. The things that happened to Kate were terrible but she carried on. But sometimes she wasn’t so sure and during those times it wasn’t clear what choices Kate would make. I was left guessing, but in a good way.
The world itself was both familiar and foreign at the same time. There are elements of magic in there with the shadows and the curses and the jinx-fighting talismans. But the use of familiar words like kopecs grounds out the surreal and makes me wonder if this is supposed to be some unnamed Eastern European village that PLAIN KATE is set in. It could be, but it might not. I really liked that. It’s place wasn’t set in stone so Kate could move around freely as she needed to but there was enough there to make it realistic. It wasn’t so fantastical of a story that it was clear it was a story. PLAIN KATE could be real, what with the Roamers (an obvious homage to the Romas) and superstitions and the maybes/maybe nots of magic. I loved stepping on both sides of that line and wondering which I really belonged on.
Linay is really a tragic figure and it’s kind of hard not to sympathize for him a little bit. Yeah, he’s a tricky bastard and he left a lot of bodies in his wake. But the root of his problem is what drives that and it really made me wonder if . . . not so much that he was justified but I kind of understood it. What happened to his sister was starting to happen to Kate and I can see how that would drive someone insane to such a point. But it’s all in the way one reacts to that and the way Kate reacted was beyond admirable.
She is such a lovely character I really can’t say enough nice things about her. She has an air of naivete about her for a good portion of the book but you get to watch her grow and become wiser of the world. She saw good in people a lot of the time but she was level-headed about it. She reacted properly in the right situations. There was no absurd justification coming from her. When someone wronged her, and I mean really wronged her, she got it and that person got discarded. She’s a survivor and she’s proof that you can’t go around thinking the best of people all the time, especially when they’re so quick to turn on you.
PLAIN KATE is just a really good story. It’s not lacking like some other books of like voice might be lacking. Meaning just because it’s told in a simpler voice doesn’t mean the story itself is simple. It’s rich, full of depth and draws a world so vivid you can’t help but get sucked into it. Now I’m all sorts of eager to get my hand on more Erin Bow books if this is what I get the pleasure of when I read them. Truly awesome.
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