I’ve loved all of Kingfisher’s books, and this one didn’t disappoint. Her books always seem original, even when they are playing on well-worn tropes, as this one does. Kingfisher blends really dark topics with humor and sarcasm in a way I always enjoy, just as she blends fantasy with modern-day realism.
In Nettle & Bone, Marra is the youngest of three sisters who is trying to free one sister from marriage with an abusive and murderous prince. The book begins mysteriously, with Marra in a strange land populated by cannibals, digging in a pile of bones. Then she somehow wires together a dog out of those bones, and we go back in time to learn who she is and why she’s there. She’d been packed off to a convent so she couldn’t get in the way of her sister giving birth to the kingdom’s heir – but finds she has much more freedom and room to grow in the convent. When she realizes how much her sister is suffering, she sets out on a nearly impossible quest. To begin, she’ll need to complete three magical tasks…
Kingfisher’s book is atmospheric and dark while also subverting many of the tropes of fairy tales. She writes about women not having control over their bodies (she “felt a stab of envy for anyone who could go through life so unconcerned about possible physical violence”).
There are some terrifying but memorable elements to this book, like the one where they meet a curse-child: a woman who is controlled by a wooden puppet who yanks on a cord around her throat. (If I’m the only one with a fear of marionettes who come to life and control you with strings, this won’t bother anyone else. But I’m betting I’m not.)
The puppet yanked on the cord. She stopped, putting a hand to her throat, and gave Marra a pleading look. Listen to how normal I sound. I am having a normal conversation with a woman being strangled by a wooden puppet and we are all acting as if the important thing is meals being included with the price of the room.Nettle & Bone, by T. KIngfisher
I appreciated that Marra is an older character. She spent her first 15 years in a privileged household, then spent the next 15 years in a convent. She’s strong and determined, though fairly sheltered. She has no interest in love and even less in having children.
If you like fantasy and fairy tales, there’s nothing not to like in this book. You get fairy godmothers, a captured knight, a witch who communicates with the dead, an underground labyrinth, and a chicken possessed by a demon. You get a band of misfits who grow to depend on each other. You get curses and journeys and hidden clues. All of it told in Kingfisher’s unique style.
Note: I received an advanced review copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher Macmillan – Tor/Forge. This book published April 26, 2022.
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Fabulous review! I loved this one too. Oh my gosh, the marionette business was so creepy! I loved how there were so many horrifying elements, but the book still manages to be funny too.