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Book: “Nettle & Bone” by T. Kingfisher
Publishing Info: Tor Books, April 2022
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: After years of seeing her sisters suffer at the hands of an abusive prince, Marra—the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter—has finally realized that no one is coming to their rescue. No one, except for Marra herself.
Seeking help from a powerful gravewitch, Marra is offered the tools to kill a prince—if she can complete three impossible tasks. But, as is the way in tales of princes, witches, and daughters, the impossible is only the beginning.
On her quest, Marra is joined by the gravewitch, a reluctant fairy godmother, a strapping former knight, and a chicken possessed by a demon. Together, the five of them intend to be the hand that closes around the throat of the prince and frees Marra’s family and their kingdom from its tyrannous ruler at last.
Review: Somehow I seem to have missed out on T. Kingfisher. She’s a fairly popular and pretty universally beloved fantasy author. And yet…here I am, I think reading my first book from her! And, spoiler alert, I really did myself a disservice by waiting this long to read her books! You can likely look forward to seeing her name crop up quite a bit from here on out.
Marra has been the lucky princess. The one to escape the confining life of a princess to grow up at a convent, largely unknown and allowed to become a grown woman free of the trappings of royalty. But while she has been afforded this quiet life, she’s watched her sisters suffer at the hands of a cruel prince. When it becomes clear that her sister’s life is teetering at the brink of her husband’s rage, Marra knows that only she is willing to risk the wrath of the prince and his kingdom to save her. And so she sets out on a perilous quest to find the power to overcome a man protected by a powerful godmother’s gift. Along the way, she picks up a ragtag troupe of fellow outsiders. Together, can they save Marra’s sister?
Oh man, I loved this book. It was everything I love about fantasy fiction. The story has a very fairytale vibe, especially in the first half of the book when Marra is attempting to complete three magical tasks to gain the aide of a powerful gravewitch. The fantasy elements included were all unique but grounded in fantasy traditions that are familiar and oddly comforting. Godmothers with curses and blessing. Goblin markets with capricious deals. And animal companions of the most bizarre sort. We have both a possessed chicken and a dog made of bones! And man, who would have thought you could get so attached to a bone dog? Tears may have been shed (but in a good way).
I also loved the way the story was told. In the first bit of the book, the story jumps between Marra’s current quest and brief glimpses of her growing up. In this way, we’re immediately grounded in the high action of Marra’s current storyline, but we are also quickly filled in on her character, life history, and motivations through these flash backs. The second half follows a more straight-forward arc, but by that time, we fully understand the stakes involved and have come to know Marra more fully. From there, the action is fast and fun. There are numerous smaller conflicts, all touching on unique magical elements, before we get to the big confrontation at the end. And there, the story definitely goes about solving this challenge in a surprising way.
Marra was such a great main character. She was strong, funny, and determined to do what she can for her sister. Her task is almost impossible from the start. And we see as the story unfolds that she is successful purely due to sheer stubbornness and the insistence that if know one else will act, even if she’s not the best person for the job, she will do it herself. There’s also a very sweet, slow-burn romance that develops in the second half of the story. For me, this was the perfect balance of a smattering of romance alongside the more central rescue story at its heart.
I also really loved the writing style. It was lyrical and descriptive when painting the magical scenes and elements, fast-paced and exciting during the action scenes, and surprisingly funny throughout the entire thing. So many of the side characters are quirky and hilarious, and there were a number of entertaining observations about people and life sprinkled throughout the book.
This book is definitely not trying to be literary fantasy or any complicated epic. Instead, it feels completely comfortable for what it is: a fun, sweet fairytale. And I think it’s important to not see it as anything lesser for that fact. There’s a tendency to dismiss these more simple, straight-forward fantasies as somehow not as worthy of acclaim as massive tomes of epic fantasy or magical realism that leans heavily on commentary of human existence. But these fantasy stories have just as much value. And I will give this the ten rating I think it deserves simply because it feels like the best of what these kinds of books can be.
Rating 10: A perfect mixture of romance, comedy, action, and tragedy with unique magical elements sprinkled throughout.