Saturday 8 July 2023

CBR15 Book 26: "Nettle & Bone" by T. Kingfisher

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

#CBR15 Passport Challenge: Books I already own
CBR15 Bingo: Violence

15-word-review: Princess Marra has to complete three impossible tasks to kill her brother-in-law. A quest follows.

Longer review: Marra, the youngest princess in a small, rather insignificant kingdom, who has spent half of her life in a convent and so is almost, but very significantly not, a nun, has been set three impossible tasks by a dust-wife (a magic-wielding woman who can communicate with the dead). She must spin thread out of nettles and fashion a cloak in less than a night and a day, and she must make a dog out of cursed bones and wire. Her final task is to capture the moon in a jar. All of these tasks are to find a way to kill her brother-in-law, the prince of a neighbouring kingdom. The prince married her eldest sister, who died after less than a year. Then the second eldest princess was married off to him, and although inexperienced and naive after a very sheltered upbringing first in a palace and then in a convent, Marra discovers that her sister has been abused and tortured, and keeps trying to stay pregnant so her husband doesn't hurt her as much. Marra wants to avenge her oldest sister and save her remaining living one, but is rather powerless on her own.

In fairy tales, the impossible frequently becomes possible, and Marra succeeds in her impossible tasks against all odds and is granted the aid of the very powerful dust-wife who set her the tasks. Along with the dust-wife and her demon chicken, accompanied by her bone dog, and eventually also an exiled (if very gentle) killer and a wicked godmother, Marra slowly travels to her brother-in-law's kingdom to try to stop him from ever hurting her family ever again. 

When my husband asked what I was reading and I told him the title of the book, he wilfully decided to misunderstand and kept asking why I would read a book about soup. There is no soup of any kind in this novel, the nettles and bones are parts of the impossible tasks that Marra nearly ruins her hands and body to accomplish, all to find a way to save her remaining sister (who she thinks has always hated her and probably still does). The wicked prince has killed his first wife and will probably murder his second one if she finally succeeds in bearing him an heir (fair warning to those who might find it distressing, the abused queen has a lot of miscarriages - no graphic details are included, but this book might not be for everyone). 

This book was a fast and engrossing read for me. It's my first novel by Kingfisher, and I was a bit worried, as I've heard some of the books she's written are mostly in the horror genre. There are absolutely horrible elements to this story, but they are all very believable, human-inflicted acts. Despite the abuse and violence committed by Marra's brother-in-law (and sadly ignored by her mother, the Queen, and spymaster of their little kingdom), quite a lot of this book is cozy and focuses on friendship, loyalty, and togetherness. It's about not underestimating those who might seem humble and weak, or too old. It's about second chances and embracing opportunities. There's a romantic subplot, but it's very gentle and almost entirely off-page.

I loved this book so much that I bought it in paperback as well, so I can have it displayed on my bookshelf. I've already recommended it to several of my friends. Anyone who likes a dark fairytale-inspired fantasy should check this out. 

Judging a book by its cover: I really like the e-book cover of the book, with the cover model wearing a dress that looks like it's made of vines and thorns, but also the UK paperback edition that I got that is in dark colours with a number of the elements from the story on the cover. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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