Plain Kate: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Plain Kate by Erin BowA long time ago, in a market town by a looping river, there lived an orphan girl called Plain Kate. Plain Kate, Kate the Carver. No one’s friend and no one’s daughter. Little Kate might meet her fate whittling sticks till it’s too late.

Kate’s shadow is long and her talents with a knife are great. Taught by her father, Plain Kate can draw the truth out of any piece of wood with skill and her knife, not with magic.

But in a town looking for someone to blame for the bad times, a little skill can start to look a lot like magic. And in a town where witches are feared and burned, working magic with a knife–even if that magic isn’t really magic–can be a very dangerous thing.

As things go from bad to worse in her small market town, Kate knows she has to leave. But you need money and food to go anywhere. So Kate makes a deal with the mysterious stranger passing through town.

In exchange for her shadow he can give her what she needs, and grant her heart’s wish. All Kate really wants is to get away, so she agrees. But as Kate sets out with her provisions and her cat, Taggle, she soon realizes she can’t live without her shadow for long. But Kate isn’t a witch and her only magic is a talent for carving. Will that be enough to help Kate change the course of things and get her shadow back in Plain Kate (2010) by Erin Bow?

Find it on Bookshop.

Plain Kate is Erin Bow’s first novel.

Bow blends element of traditional folk tales with her own lore to create a unique world for this dark fantasy. Kate is a carver through and through, a fact that the writing returns to again and again as Kate works on her carvings and views her surroundings through a carver’s eyes.

The writing here is lyrical and evocative, making up for a story that became somewhat scattered in the second half of the book. Plain Kate will easily appeal to anyone looking for a traditional fantasy but be warned: this is a story that is very grim even in the midst of its flights of fancy.

I loved the book trailer for Plain Kate but I hesitate to mention it because I think it’s misleading in terms of how very, very dark this book really is. Now might also be a good time to mention that I really enjoyed the cover art for this title by Juliana Kolesova even though it (again) suggested a much more whimsical story than this really was.

This dichotomy between the cover/trailer and the actual story also makes it hard to determine my own feelings about the book. I can see the merits of the writing and the premise. The world Bow created is wonderfully developed. All the same,  I found the contrast between the story I was expecting and the story I got to be so jarring that I cannot love it as wholeheartedly as I thought I would.

I see great things in this book’s future, but part of me still wishes it had been the lighter-toned, more whimsical book I had initially expected.

Possible Pairings: All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Bone Shaker by Kate Milford, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde