Plain Kate

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 woodcarver’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 but for her cat, Taggle. 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 linty’s designs are darker than she ever dreamed.”

I’ve picked up this book from the author herself after listening to one of her talks set up by our local NaNoWriMo writing group. I enjoyed her talk and been meaning to read this book earlier – but you can guess how many books I have on my pile I need to read. It has also been a while since I read a YA book, I enjoyed the easy read and was able to get absorbed into the characters, setting and magic so easily. A great book with a strong heroine!

The story starts with a brief history of Plain Kate, how she received her nickname and her abilities as a carver. Able to carve before she could hold a spoon, she uses the knife as an extension of herself able to carve the charms the townspeople buy to protect their homes from dark magic and curses. Her relationship with her father, the carver of the town, is close and full of love. He teachers her to carve and she claims to be a master cover before she is twenty. But her father warns her of how people view her, a young girl with talent and skill with the knife is unusual and even at a young age many whisper ‘witch-blade’ behind her back. They believe her skill and talent is witchcraft. But Plain Kate decides to keep on carve despite the whispers and looks she receives. However, her peaceful life is short-lived when the town is overcome by a darkness, a fever that causes many to die – including her father.

Left alone, Plain Kate tries to keep her life moving by living in the town square in her father’s old stall, carving the charms that people need and are willing to buy. Not everyone in the town is against her, and she is able to make by for a couple of years. To help her with her loneliness is her cat Taggle, one of three kittens she found the first night she slept in her father’s stall.

Eventually a new wave of darkness and hard times approach the town Kate lives in, a fog that makes people sleep and never wake up. Soon, she is suspected again for being a witch. But before drastic measures are taken against her Linay enters the town, pale and white-haired, he offers her a deal, a way out of the town, her heart’s wish for her shadow. Eventually Kate gives in and he takes her shadow – and in exchange her heart’s wish comes true, her cat Taggle can talk.

Yup a talking cat which is the best thing in this book!

Plain Kate soon finds herself amongst a group of Roamers who takes her in. She carver her charms to sell in the next town they come across, she also begins to piece together the identity of Linay. She befriends a girl a little younger than her and for once Kate thinks she’s found a place to belong, but her shadow grows smaller, and soon she would be faced to tell them the truth of what she did. Before she can explain her true situation with the Roamers, the fog approaches them, and in the fog a being appears.

Leaving two of the Roamers on the verge of death, in the sleep that can’t be waken, Kate is assumed a witch and is burned – or tried to burn. She escapes and runs into the clutches of Linay once more. She pieces together the story, the revenge Linay has in store and why he needed her shadow. Appalled, Kate tries to stop him.

This story was so enjoyable to read, I loved Kate so much, her troubled life, her friendship with Drina, and even the feelings she had toward Linay, whom she blamed for a lot of her hardships. By the last three chapters I was crying my eyes out. Even though Kate is still just a young girl, maybe a teenager, she is compelled to save a town that burns witches. She is deterred to stop Linay from using her shadow to do harm to others. I find that admirable, and courageous.

I also extremely enjoyed the talking cat, Taggle. He gives the book a humours tone as he address situation as a cat would see, but also in humanistic ways. He gives Kate companionship that she desperately needs throughout the course of events.

Then there is the world, full of superstition and magic, the use of charms to ward these magics off, yet also condemning any sort of healing magic that might help them. It’s a fine line by the sounds of it. Despite much of the faceless people Kate comes in contact with, I like that there were still those who knew Kate and were willing to help her, to pay for her services and even give her stale bread or food if they had extra. The village we started in, you get the sense of community and you do get upset that despite growing up in the town Kate is still forced to leave it because of superstitions.

Overall, this book was an enjoyable read. I loved the characters so much and the magic in the world. For those looking for a light, fun read, I recommend this book. Let me know if you cry has hard as I did!

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