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Plain Kate [Hardcover]

Erin Bow
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 1 2010
A knife-sharp debut that leaves its mark!

Plain Kate lives in a world of magic and curses, where cats can talk and shadows can bring back the dead. As the wood-carver's daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden talismans seem to reveal hidden truths about their owners.

But she and her village have fallen on hard times: Kate's father dies, crops fail, and a strange sickness is spreading across the countryside. The village is looking for someone to blame, and for her skill with a knife, Kate is accused of witchcraft.

Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: If Kate gives him her shadow, he'll grant her heart's wish, and he'll also find a way for her to escape the angry townspeople. Kate reluctantly agrees, not realizing that she's given a powerful tool to a man driven mad with grief. Aided by new friends and armed with the carving knife that has never failed to show her the truth, Kate must stop Linay in his terrible plan of revenge and become the heroine she knows is within her.

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Product Details

Product Description

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 review

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read Feb. 22 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Although this book is in a young adult genre, I found it difficult to put down. Erin Bow is a wonderful writer and I would recommend this book for those who love descriptive travel, interesting characters and cats. You won't be disappointed.

Dianne J Ferris
Canadian author.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, dark fantasy Feb. 7 2014
By Christa Seeley TOP 500 REVIEWER
This is a story about shadows. A story of blood. A story of magic. But above all it is the story of a girl finding her way in the world.

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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Audio Book March 19 2012
By Heather Pearson TOP 500 REVIEWER
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.

This is the story of young Kate Carver, the daughter of a skilled wood carver who has died long before his time. Kate is now left alone in the world, a world where superstitions run high, where magic and curses are believed. The ability of carving is held in suspicion, though many believe that a particular type of carving can ward off evil. Without the protection of the Wood Carvers Guild, Kate can't make ends meet. She longs to escape her village and find a safer place to live and possibly even an apprenticeship with a qualified carver.

Instead she meets Linay, a stranger to her village. He promises to give Kate what she needs and most desires, if in exchange she will give him her shadow. Once she has accepted his offer, she finds that it has only made her situation that much more desperate.

Kate is obviously a child prodigy when it comes to carving, yet that is not enough to ensure her a good wage, nor to secure her a position in the Wood Carver Guild. There is politics to be played just as there often is in the real world. She is accepted when people have need of her skill at carving protective charms, but they are just as quick to turn their backs on her when they need a scapegoat. These are a lot of lessons to be learned at a young age. Even with these troubles following her, Kate is invited to travel with the Roamers, a collection of families that live and travel together. Interesting that strangers will welcome her into their midst while people who have known her all her life readily turn their backs on her.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this story. It was read by Cassandra Campbell. You can listen to a sound clip of the un-abridged edition at Brilliance Audio. 8 hours 45 minutes.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing first novel Nov. 12 2010
This story is written in a Russian or Eastern European Fairy Tale style. In some ways, for older readers, it will be reminiscent of Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird. The story at times is dark, charming, and wistful, and at all times it is extremely entertaining. This debut novel will leave its mark on the reader, much as Kate's knife leaves her marks on wood.

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.
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