Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher
My rating: 5/5 cats
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.
t kingfisher delivers another absolute stunner, smashing up a bunch of fairytales and reassembling them into a glittering mosaic made up of fragments of familiar images, filling in the gaps with gems mined from her dark-slanting imagination, creating a whole new, wondrous thing and crackling it into wild, pulsating life.
here, you will find a goblin market, labyrinthine royal burial chambers, a demon-possessed chicken, the blessings and curses of godmothers, a tooth-merchant, a heroine faced with three impossible tasks, angry ghosts, cannibals, a puppet-plagued innkeeper, a thief-wheel, a dog made of bones, and murrrrder.
under the spell of kingfisher’s quietly confident storytelling, these mind-bogglingly disparate elements coalesce gracefully into a wholly original story, refracting all the expectations of fairytales and quest narratives into something more stirring, heartbreaking, funny, and satisfying than should be possible.
it’s just another story of a girl trying to kill a prince to protect her sister AND THE FRIENDS SHE MAKES ALONG THE WAY.
marra is the youngest of three princesses, and an unlikely heroine:
Marra had grown up sullen, the sort of child who is always standing in exactly the wrong place so that adults tell her to get out of the way. She was not slow, exactly, but she seemed younger than her age, and little interested her for long.
her eldest, and favorite, sister damia is married off to prince vorling, forging an alliance between his kingdom and their family’s smaller and more vulnerable city-state. however, five months after their wedding, damia dies under suspicious circumstances. mutually-disliking middle-sister kania becomes vorling’s replacement-bride, and fifteen-year-old marra is shuttled off to a convent to prevent her from marrying and potentially birthing an inconvenient rival to the throne before kania gives vorling an heir. marra adjusts to the simplicity of a novice’s life, and when her sister finally becomes pregnant five years later, she attends the christening of kania’s daughter, where she meets vorling for the first time and begins to suspect he was responsible for damia’s untimely death, and fears that kania is also in danger, until/unless/after she produces a son.
ten years later, she decides to actually do something about it.
what follows is a heroic, reckless, impossible plan, and i’m not sure i can do better than alix harrow’s blurb:
Nettle & Bone is what happens when all the overlooked bit players of classic fantasy somehow wind up on the main quest. It’s funny, frightening, and full of heart; I loved it.
as much as i cringe at using a cliché to describe something as unique as this story, they are, in fact, a ragtag bunch: a dust-wife and her demon-containing hen, agnes; a flustery godmother, fenris; a disgraced knight, marra; our almost-nun heroine, and bonedog; her lovable bonedog. which is exactly what it sounds like.
“Five of us,” said Fenris, looking over at the others approvingly. Marra leaned down and scratched Bonedog’s spine until his jaws clattered with pleasure. “Five is a fist. Five is a hand on the enemy’s throat.”
“I suppose that makes us each fingers,” said Marra. She curled her own around Bonedog’s spine, taking comfort from the hard ridges. “You’re the thumb,” she told the dog. Bonedog wagged his tail.
kingfisher is SO GOOD at writing animal characters, and even though i have never seen her kill one of ’em off, in this one bonedog starts out dead, so you don’t need to worry about him coming to
any much harm.
it’s a perfect story, perfectly told. i am so in love with kingfisher’s fertile imagination and nuanced character-work, the quiet lines she just tosses out that mean so much more than they seem to at first glance, how nothing is ever black-and-white and the care she takes in managing the gray, even her dang author’s notes are fun.
t kingfisher is my fairytale godmother and all her gifts are blessings.
and look at these beautiful endpapers or whatever they’re called:
and bonedog’s hiding under the hood!
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