Plain Kate

Title: Plain Kate

Author: Erin Bow

Kate Carver, the woodcarver’s daughter, has been carving since she was able to hold a knife. But her skill brings suspicion, and after her father dies, she’s left to depend on the fickle generosity of her small town. Then a stranger appears who offers to give her heart’s desire in exchange for her shadow—a man who won’t take no for an answer.

This is a very hard story to read, but the good bits are very good. Mostly it’s hard because of the awful things that happen to some undeserving people, and the story doesn’t glorify the awfulness but it isn’t shying away from it either. Suspicion of witchcraft can get you killed, or worse. Kate has had to live all her life with people doubting her skill, but when she loses her shadow, even those she thought were friends turn against her. Nor is Kate the only one affected badly by such fear-driven madness. There’s a scene near the middle that was very hard for me to read for the brutality of it (violence, mostly, for those wondering about sexual content).

But, if that doesn’t deter you, the surrounding story is solid. Kate hardly recognizes it herself, but she suffers from desperate loneliness, particularly after her father dies. Which makes her relationship with Taggle, a cat she raises from very early kittenhood, so sweet. The deal that costs Kate her shadow gains Taggle a voice. Taggle is so quintessentially cat. He’s supremely self-confident, has a very direct outlook on life, and—when confronting a man who has killed many people and is ruining the lives of many more—finds the worst thing about the whole ordeal that he has had wet paws for months. He has some amazing lines.

“We’re not talking about you.”
The cat’s inner eyelids had been sliding closed. He lifted one, lizardlike. “We’re not? Why not?”

“Give me another reason,” Taggle said, flicking his ears. “Give me a cat’s reason. Keep in mind that we do not,” he harrumphed, “run into burning buildings going ‘bark, bark.'”

Pretty much every time he opens his mouth I want to quote him….

So, much is lost by the end, but it does still end on a bittersweet note. If the hard things don’t turn you away, then this can be a good time. I rate this book Recommended.

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