Plain Kate by Erin Bow

A copy of this book landed in my lap (thanks Mary!) and I devoured it.

Kate lives in (what sounds like) Russia in an era of magic and superstition. Her problem: her village has begun to think she is a witch. Yes, she is a carver (skill with a knife is a sign of a witch), she has different-colored eyes (ooh), and she has a cat friend who follows her everywhere (yup, definitely a witch). A mysterious man cruelly helps the witch rumors along, then convinces Kate to leave town, but not before trading her some survival necessities for…her shadow.

Beyond “did I like it?” (because I really, really did), do I think Plain Kate works? Overall, yes. Through the course of the novel I got to know Kate very well, from her love of wood-carving to her fears: of losing her shadow, of being kicked out of the Roamers’ caravan, of being alone. Knowing the character intimately is one of the best ways to get a reader to care.

As far as supporting cast – that is also very strong. My favorite supporting character was Kate’s sidekick, Taggle. A cat. I will say no more about him except you should read this book if for no other reason than to meet Taggle.

What worked best in the book, and what I will be re-reading this book to study, is how the setting and tone work together to create this beautiful, spooky mood. The lyrical prose (you know how I’m always raving about that) is also out of this world…unsurprising as Bow has also published a book of poems.

The beginning felt a little slow to me, but this could be because I was in such a rush to start reading that I didn’t give myself a good chunk of time to get immersed. Once I’d invested a half hour of reading time, I couldn’t put Plain Kate down.

To visit Erin Bow’s website, click here. If you visit, be prepared to forget whatever else you had planned. I found an absorbing essay on her “Odds and Ends” page and stayed up late to read the whole thing.

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