Sunday, January 08, 2023

Nettle & Bone, by T. Kingfisher

As the third daughter of the royal family of a small and weak kingdom, Marra never had much in the way of ambition beyond life in a convent. It was the eldest who was married off to the crown prince of the  neighboring Northern Kingdom.  And when she died, it was the middle daughter who replaced her on the throne. Marra might have been happy to stay where she was, embroidering tapestries and assisting the midwife.  However, after a rare visit with her sister for her niece's christening, Marra grows suspicious about her sister's situation and after the child's death she learns of the abusive nature of the marriage.

She is torn apart by the news of her sister's suffering, but can a princess in a convent do about it?  Rescuing her sister from the grasp of a jealous husband, especially one of royal blood, seems impossible.  But Marra is determined to try.  Through a series of feats ranging from reanimating a dog from its bones to shopping at a goblin market to interviewing the dead, Marra bravely tackles one impossible task after another, all to rescue her sister.  A quirky cast of characters (an old woman who talks with the dead, a fairy godmother, a disgraced warrior, a demon chicken, and others) join her on her epic adventure.

A lively and lovely horror/fantasy tale that entertains, even as it addresses the sobering topic of domestic violence.  That said, while this is feminist-inspired fantasy, the storytelling itself is too fast paced to dwell for any significant time on the topic.  In other words, we acknowledge the oppressive patriarchal structures of traditional fairy tale narratives, but then move on to the next adventure.  And that's much of the way of this novel overall.  There's some hint of a romance, but the story never slows down enough for that either.  Instead, it is mostly an endless parade of supernatural monsters and magic.  You'll like this if you enjoy stories of ghosts, demons, and the undead.

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