Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2010-08-16
- Reviewer: Staff
After her father's death, the orphaned heroine of Bow's YA debut novel supports herself by carving wooden talismans in a vaguely Russian village ruled by superstition. When strange things start happening, Kate, already considered "halfway to a witch" because of her knife skills, must leave or risk being burned at the stake. She makes a bargain with Linay, a real witch, trading her shadow for things she needs to flee as well as her "heart's wish," which, poignantly, turns out to be someone to talk to: her cat, Taggle, can now speak. Kate connects with a caravan of "Roamers," and it soon becomes clear that Linay took her shadow for evil purposes. Despite the talking animal (who nearly steals the show) and graceful writing (Kate carries Taggle around her neck, "draped bonelessly, like a fur collar with glittering eyes"), this is a dark and complex tale, full of violence--knives cut a lot more than wood. The ending, which reverses nearly every bad thing that has happened along the way, is a bit much, but Kate is undeniably a sympathetic character deserving of happiness. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
A dangerous game of which-witch
In Erin Bow’s first novel, Plain Kate, an enthralling fantasy set in a time and place much like medieval Europe, it’s the skara rok, or hungry time, and the folk of Samilae are eager to blame anyone a little odd for the town’s diminishing supplies and growing illnesses. With “one eye the color of river mud and one eye the color of the river” and a gift for carving popular talismans that surpasses her teenage years, orphan Plain Kate Carver knows she’ll be accused of witchcraft soon.
When a “witch-white” stranger offers to grant Plain Kate her heart’s secret wish in exchange for her shadow, the lonely girl begrudgingly accepts the bargain as a way to flee the town. Feeling as if she’s lost a part of her soul, she secretly departs the only home she’s ever known with Taggle, a talking cat, as her companion. Plain Kate is soon taken in by the Roamers, a traveling, Romani-like clan, and befriended by Drina, whose mother, a healer and a witch, was sentenced to death for her practices.
This elaborate story takes on more twists and turns as Drina begins to teach her the rules of magic and the friends conspire to reclaim Plain Kate’s shadow. But things don’t always go according to plan when Plain Kate discovers the witch-white stranger’s true identity and his diabolical plot.
Plain Kate’s natural talents and bravery will endear her to teen readers. Her cat Taggle, who’s willing to claw any man or beast to save his beloved owner, also adds light humor to this tale of dark magic. As the pair travels together, finding friendship and saving their small world in the process, the novel’s fantastical elements come together to create a spellbinding ending.