Plain Kate Hardcover – Sep 1 2010
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Quill & Quire
Katerina Svetlana, the daughter of a woodcarver, has a rare gift: she can whittle wood with such perfection that her creations often reveal uncomfortable secrets about people, causing them to fear her. First-time YA author Erin Bow uses this premise to create a story set in some long-ago northern country, in which magic and witchcraft compete with honour, duty, and the struggle to survive.
Kate is a wanderer and an orphan. Preying on her loneliness (as well as her power), a stranger offers a trade: he will grant her deepest wish in return for her shadow. A bargain is struck, and Kate enters a whole new world.
And what a violent, unpredictable world it is. Bow pulls no punches when it comes to placing her characters in peril. A mob lynching, a spell involving nightly bloodletting, the burning of suspected witches – all are part of Kate’s journey. She is forced to sacrifice much in order to regain her shadow.
Bow, a published poet, writes exquisitely. We feel Kate’s blistered feet, see her delicate carving, hear the “plosh and clock” of a pole driving a boat down the river. Not a word is wasted: dialogue and description are pared down to essentials in a story that moves, for the most part, at an unrelenting pace.
As a heroine, Kate is anything but “plain.” Fierce, brave, honest, and determined, she meets every challenge head on. Her fierceness masks her fear, and her determination to make things right is held back by her self-doubt. She’s a heroine with flaws, and the reader desperately wants her to succeed in her quest.
Original and sometimes disturbing, Plain Kate is a compelling story of dark magic and a remarkable debut by a talented writer.
"... an effective and moving coming-of-age novel." ―The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred reviewSee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
For Kate is a wood carver; she is not yet in the guild, but her father is a guild master and it looks like it will only be a matter of time before Kate is a master also. All that is holding her back is her age. But then tragedy strikes - her father falls to the witch fever and passes away. The new guild master expels her from the only home she has ever known. She takes to sleeping in the bottom drawer of her father's stall in the market. She ekes out a living on the slight generosity and tolerance of the town. Yet soon a white witch comes to town. He has power and he stirs up trouble against Kate. She finally agrees to his demand and sells her shadow. Kate soon realizes she cannot live without her shadow and she needs to find out what the stranger Linays wanted it for and if there is a way she can stop him.
In a world of superstition, curses and cures, Kate must find her way alone and lonely. The story is compelling and the readers will find themselves not wanting to put the book down. The world created by Erin Bow is familiar to tales of old, with a young woman coming of age and finding her place in the world. It is an amazing story that is very well written, especially for a first novel.
Erin Bow is a particle physicist, who formerly worked at both CERN and Los Alamos labs, who has now become a poet and author. She resides in Kitchener, Ontario. She has written two volumes of poetry, and now a novel for young adults.
Plain Kate is the orphaned daughter of a masterful Wood Carver in an imagined fairytale past. Quite plain-looking, hence her nickname, Kate forges a future for herself when the Guild repossess her father's home and shop after his death by continuing his carving work. Already an oddity because of her skill with a carving knife and mismatching eyes, Plain Kate becomes the focus of the town's fear and ire when the seemingly helpful fiddler Linay comes to town and people start falling asleep and never waking up. Fearing she will be burnt for a witch, Kate agrees to sell her shadow to Linay in return for a means of escape and her hearts true wish.
Now Plain Kate is on the run, with no shadow, no family, no friends, no money, and a cat named Taggle who is suddenly gifted with the ability to talk.
Bow's prose is crafted, not one word superfluous or one comma out of place, and the world that she invokes is appropriately gritty and dirty for the social standing and financial situation of Kate, the orphaned daughter of a tradesmen in a Russian-esque imagined past. Bow has clearly done her research, but the facts don't bog down the prose. Instead, Bows familiarity with her subject infuses her tale with the sort of rich warmth and worldbuilding that come from the best storytellers.
What I love best is Taggle's dialogue - if cats could talk, I am certain that this is what they would sound like.Read more ›
Erin Bow has drawn from the threads of Russian folklore to weave a rich and beautiful story world. Katerina Svetlana (nicknamed "Plain Kate") lives in a land full of superstitious peasants, dark magics and mysterious gypsies. And also the aforementioned talking cat. Did I mention that I loved the cat? The writing is perfect. Each and every setting has a detail that makes it memorable, without the prose being so wordy as to leave you bored.
When Kate is accused of being a witch and forced to leave her hometown, she makes a bargain with the magician Linay. Her shadow for aid on her journey. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but as Kate begins to understand the implications, she realizes that she may have unleashed a terrible curse on the entire country. What follows is a powerful story that should capture even the most jaded reader. The stories are different, but the feeling is akin to a less-traumatic Tender Morsels.
Dianne J Ferris
The big problem with book blogging is sometimes we get so swept up in all the new releases that we forget to look back at older titles. Which was one of the main motivations for me to join the Toronto chapter of the Forever Young Adult Book club. Though I haven’t managed to participate every month, this month I’m really glad I did.
Plain Kate is a fantasy novel (witches!) but there is a very traditional folklore feel to the story. The writing style was simple and straight forward and yet still poetic. It’s the kind of story that evokes a nostalgic feeling, reminding you of the fairy tales you were familiar with as a child – a young heroine, magic, danger and a valuable lesson all rolled into one. It was easy to imagine this as a tale passed down through generations, especially since Bow took so much care with the details of the setting. Plain Kate’s world is one heavily influenced by medieval Russia and you can tell a lot of research was done in order to depict this world properly. Small details that may not seem important, really helped to bring it to life in my imagination and only added to the traditional, fairy-tale feel of the whole novel.
I have to admit that Plain Kate was much darker than I expected. This isn’t a bad thing, just a surprising one. There are witch burnings, some blood lettings and some horribly violent townspeople. And it’s not just violence that gives this book its edge. The theme of revenge is present throughout Kate’s adventures. Through the character of Linay, Bow demonstrates how revenge can cloud someone’s judgement and twist their soul.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
I have been wanting to read Plain Kate by Erin Bow since I first heard her read an excerpt from it at the Eden Mills Writes Festival in September 2010. Read morePublished on March 19 2012 by Heather Pearson
My 12 year old LOVED this book. She is an avid reader and has been through much of the local library...."best one yet mom" That certainly deserves 5 stars. Read morePublished on Dec 5 2011 by donna villeneuve