REVIEW: Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher
This isn’t the kind of fairytale where the princess marries a prince.
It’s the one where she kills him.
Marra never wanted to be a hero.
As the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter, she escaped the traditional fate of princesses, to be married away for the sake of an uncaring throne. But her sister wasn’t so fortunate—and after years of silence, Marra is done watching her suffer at the hands of a powerful and abusive prince.
Seeking help for her rescue mission, Marra is offered the tools she needs, but only if she can complete three seemingly impossible tasks:
—build a dog of bones
—sew a cloak of nettles
—capture moonlight in a jar
But, as is the way in tales of princes and witches, doing the impossible is only the beginning.
Hero or not—now joined by a disgraced ex-knight, a reluctant fairy godmother, an enigmatic gravewitch and her fowl familiar—Marra might finally have the courage to save her sister, and topple a throne.
CWs: physical abuse, mentions of cannibalism, violent death of a teen
Dear Ms. Kingfisher,
I was blown away by this novel. It’s a road journey, underdogs, ragtag band of misfits, self-doubting heroine, disgraced knight, possessed chicken, dust-wife, evil prince, family relationships mishmash of wonderful. Clues are strewn along the way that later become important, it all makes sense in the end, and I had a fantastic time discovering “What Came Next.” Brava.
The trees were full of crows and the woods were full of madmen. The pit was full of bones and her hands were full of wires.
The beginning grabs your attention. Someone is fishing bones out of a bone pit and fashioning a dog with them. Okay, sure. And it’s taking place in a horrible place with evil practically dripping from the trees but this person *must* do this. Why? Still don’t know that but whatever the reason for it, it must be compelling to risk the cannibals. Then the timeline changes and things get … a touch slow. Princess Marra’s family history is laid out along with the political alliances that her shrewd mother is forced to make in order to try and save their tiny kingdom.
These choices include sacrificing two of her daughters, Marra’s older sisters, one after another in marriage to the Crown Prince of a larger neighboring kingdom. Marra is forced to enter a convent as a lay sister and spends fifteen years there. Along the way, she becomes fixated on helping the Sister Apothecary and learning to weave and embroider. It’s only when she and her mother are called to journey to her middle sister’s accouchement and her daughter’s christening that Marra discovers how awful living in this country is for her sister. When Marra visits her sister again a few years later, the full truth of what Kania has endured is clear.
Kania is trapped in her life with no hope of salvation. Marra confronts her mother who acknowledges this and that she’s always known this but for the greater good of all the people in their kingdom, this is the way it has to be. Right then shy, quiet, unassuming Marra makes the decision to save her sister. By hook or by crook, come hell or high water, she will do it. But how?
“Did you think impossible tasks were so easily done?”
Some murmured questions posed to the local dust-wife elicits the information that sets Marra on the path to making her bone dog but that only comes after she’s almost ruined her hands weaving a cloak from some badass nettles. Before too long the dust-wife, along with her demon possessed chicken, has reluctantly joined with Marra and Bonedog before they take a side journey to an enchanted goblin marketplace (and just because it’s enchanted that doesn’t mean it’s nice) and pick up a knight who was forced to kill a man and then whose honor made him make bad choices (no, killing the man was not a bad choice and after he explains what happened, I agree with him). Picking up a fairy godmother with some odd abilities rounds out the crew on the road to save Marra’s sister and kill a prince. But this is only half the battle.
“It’s a fool’s errand and we’ll probably all die.”
I don’t want to risk ruining the fun (yes, there is some), the bonding (again, yes), the romance (sweet and gentle), the plotting, the way the earlier clues are worked into the plan and how everything comes together in the end (it does). I will reveal and another chick joins the group, the fairy godmother is not the flibbertigibbet she sometimes appears to be, the dust-wife is deliciously dry and sardonic with very little sentimentality, the knight is totally a man of honor who is willing to die on this mission (he views it as his redemption), the chick is cute, the chicken views most if not all of humanity as beneath it, and Marra (who does not think she is not beautiful but rather short and round and anxious) finds in herself the strength to keep going through the pain, her sacrifices (don’t go to an enchanted goblin market expecting anything for free – everything has a cost), her self doubt, and her fear.
“Nothing is fair, except that we try to make it so. That’s the point of humans, maybe, to fix things the gods haven’t managed.”
I read this book in huge chunks, gobbling it down and hungry for more. It’s got both (very) grim moments and funny ones. It’s a standalone story so no worries about “do I have to read the first book.” It’s got sisterly love, politics, redemption, second chances, a romance, a great hero, a quest, and a heroine who is flawed (along with her lack of the usual princessy looks, she also doesn’t think she’s clever) and overlooked yet discovers her worth and abilities when tested. I even applauded her bit of selfishness at the end because by then, she deserved it and her HEA. This will be on my “best of” list this year. A