Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Review: Plain Kate by Erin Bow

Plain Kate by Erin Bow
A.K.A. Wood Angel in the UK 
Release Date: September 1, 2010
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Pages: 314
Received: Library, now own
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep magic. As the wood-carver's daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden talismans are so fine that some even call her “witch-blade”: a dangerous nickname in a country where witches are hunted and burned in the square.

For Kate and her village have fallen on hard times. Kate’s father has died, leaving her alone in the world. And a mysterious fog now covers the countryside, ruining crops and spreading fear of hunger and sickness. The townspeople are looking for someone to blame, and their eyes have fallen on Kate.

Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: In exchange for her shadow, he’ll give Kate the means to escape the angry town, and what’s more, he’ll grant her heart’s wish. It’s a chance for her to start over, to find a home, a family, a place to belong. But Kate soon realizes she can't live shadowless forever -- and that Linay's designs are darker than she ever dreamed.


There are some books that are so perfect, so emotional, that mere words can't do them justice. Plain Kate is one such book. The lyrical writing sucked me in from the very first page, but it is Kate and her cat Taggle that have stolen my heart. I finished this book in record speed due to the smooth pacing, lyrical writing, and engaging plot and characters. Unlike most books in the YA market lately, Plain Kate is a standalone and not part of a series.

In the beginning

From the very first line you'll know that this is a fairy tale. It is not a retelling, but it is instead a story that can stand on its own among all of the great fairy tales. I'm not usually the type of reader who cares overly much for writing style and I only really take note when it is particularly great or especially bad. Plain Kate falls solidly at the top of the former category. Erin Bow's writing made me wish I was a child again so I could hand this book to my mother and ask her to read it to me.

Though her writing is beautiful and atmospheric, I think the best word to describe it is emotional. I can't recall a time where I had such an instant connection with a character as I did with Kate. I loved her in that fiercely protective, inexplicable way that a parent loves a child--regardless of who they are or what they do. My love for her only grew further as the story went on and I began to know her as a strong, determined, loyal, and brave woman.

Oh don't worry about me, I'm just sobbing my eyes out

So it was from the very first chapter that my heart was already firmly lodged in my throat and tears were already pricking my eyes. Because this is a fairy tale, and we all know what happens to parents in fairy tales, right?

And that is just the beginning. Oh but Erin Bow is a cruel, wonderfully amazing writer. She puts poor Kate through so, so much. My heart just broke again and again for Kate, but I was utterly captivated by her journey. Prepare yourself though. Kate's story is dark and disturbing, not unlike fairy tales pre-Disnification.

The one difference between Plain Kate and a fairy tale is that Plain Kate contains so much more depth than your average fairy tale. The story is intricate and multi-layered with an enthralling mystery and a resolution that I did not see coming at all.

And you know by now how I feel about characters, right? Oh my gosh, how can I even explain these characters? Every single one was perfectly, beautifully, heartbreakingly rendered. Each had so much depth and backstory. Unraveling their histories and seeing how they were all connected together was fascinating. Linay, the man who barters for Kate's shadow and sets the story in motion, was a complex man who plays the role of the villain but is really so much more.

I haven't mentioned my absolute favorite character yet. That would be Taggle, Kate's talking cat and the "heart's wish" that she receives as payment for her shadow. Taggle is...amazing. I don't usually love animals that talk, but I ADORE Taggle. He truly was Kate's heart's wish and the way Erin Bow wrote their relationship was absolutely heartbreaking and perfect and beautiful and just...beyond compare.

Seriously, don't read this in public

Some books need to come with a warning not to read them in public because your emotional response will be 1) Uncontrolable, and 2) Embarrassing or difficult to explain to strangers. So I'm warning you now: DON'T READ THIS BOOK IN PUBLIC! Particularly the final quarter. Was I sobbing my eyes out before? Ok, that was nothing. I was BAWLING by the end.

Because this is a fairy tale, you can kind of guess what's going to happen sometimes. Certain things are inevitable and I read those scenes like an angry child, stubbornly digging my heels into the ground and then collapsing on the ground kicking and screaming in protest (not literally though, I didn't embarrass myself that much in public).

*FYI, I was just asked by one of my patrons if everything was ok because my eyes are all glassy with tears as I'm writing this and remembering those scenes. See what I mean about the seriousness of that warning?

But I rallied and read beyond those scenes, picking myself up like Kate and continuing on despite the pain. And it was so worth it. By the end, I was still crying, but my tears had turned from tears of anguish to bittersweet tears of acceptance and hope. I don't usually like to say much about the endings of books, but I have to say that this ending is the best possible ending ever. Erin Bow is simply amazing.

And they lived happily ever after

I hope that if you read this book that you can feel even a fraction of what I'm feeling. It is a gift and I want to give it to you. I'm so deeply moved. A number of my library patrons read this book for their mother-daughter book club and I couldn't think of a better choice.

If I still haven't convinced you, then maybe Krystle can. It was her amazing review that made me pick up Plain Kate when I did and I can't thank her enough.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Plain Kate that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 


  1. See, I was overwhelmed by the sadness-I think I do prefer the Disney version of fairy tales although I appreciated the depth of the world created by Bow. My favorite character was also Taggle-you can guess what part broke my heart!

  2. Wow. Smalls you have really outdone yourself! Ehat a brilliant review. I absolutely must read this one.

    TALKING CAT! Gotcha! :P

  3. My, I'm sold. I love this kind of a story. I think I may like middle grade books even more than YA ones.

    I was so amped today when I found this one at the digital library. I added to my wishlist, because I knew from goodreads you loved it.

  4. Wow- I really want to read this now! It sounds like something I'd love. Thanks for the wonderful review. I like the UK Wood Angel cover much better because it looks more magical and fairy tale like.

  5. Beautiful review! You definitely have made me want to pick up this book. It sounds like a story that you can easily get emotional invested in.

  6. Great review! Looks like one I would enjoy for sure.

  7. Smallllllls.....golly goodness this review was worth the wait. ;) Ok, I'm reading this (hopefully) really soon. It's been on my radar for quite some time and you HAVE convinced me. So excited to read it for myself! :D

    Wonderful review...just wonderful. :D

  8. AH! AH! ****Linds puts on must read shelf**** I don't see such STELLAR review from you that often, and I adore a good book that can make me sob (I find masochistically cathartic), so thanks for the awesome review. Ohhhh, can't wait!

  9. I really want to read this book! Thank you for sharing your review today. Sometimes you need a good sob with a touch of something different:)

  10. It's magical when a book grabs you so strongly from the first few pages and doesn't let you go until the end! Makes me think I really have to add this to my TBR pile.

  11. Aww, thanks! This book was just so fabulous, wasn't it? *bawls* LoL! Sorry I haven't commented recently. Been busy and I have a mild dislike for pop up windows. =P.

    Lovely review! Gorgeous book is gorgeous~. XD.

  12. Wow- If the book is half as good as your review, I'm in for a treat. I love the line, "Erin Bow's writing made me wish I was a child again so I could hand this book to my mother and ask her to read it to me." If that isn't a clencher, I don't know what is. I'm sold. I can handle the cat. (I think). And I promise to read it at home, so only my boys will worry about me. Wonderful review!

    (Breadcrumbs came yesterday:)

  13. Wow, this sounds amazing! The way in which it is a fairy tale, yet so much more as well. I absolutely loved it when you said, " Certain things are inevitable and I read those scenes like an angry child, stubbornly digging my heels into the ground and then collapsing on the ground kicking and screaming in protest (not literally though, I didn't embarrass myself that much in public)." Haha, I couldn't stop laughing :D Spectacular review, and I cannot wait to check Plain Kate out!!!

  14. It's funny that you posted this review because I'm actually reading this right now--and I agree about everything! I just love Kate and my heartstrings were definitely being tugged all through this. Great review! I'd love to chat about this one once I've finished :)

  15. This sounds wonderful. I've read a few bad reviews, so I'm glad you like it. Wow...it must really be something if you were crying that hard. I love those types of books. And I also like strong animal characters - that aren't stupid.

  16. Another highly positive review for this book! All other reviews I've read have said the same thing about the beautiful writing and Kate. I think what resonates with me the most is that you say it could stand on its own as being a great fairy tale. Well, that and the talking cat :) And it is duly noted that I will not read this in public, thank you.

  17. Oh wow! I don't think I've read a review on this book. It sounds great! I like the emotional connection to characters and that all of them are well-developed. I'm adding this one to my list!

  18. Sounds fantastic! I love books that tug on your heartstrings like that!

  19. Amazing how much that got to you! I'll have to make sure I'm stocked up with Kleenex!

  20. You only had to say fairytale to convince me to add it to my wishlist :) A review though about what you loved about this one is even better.

    I'm not usually a fan of animals that talk either but I love the sound of Taggle. Your description of him reminds me of Faithful, Alanna's cat in the Song of the Lioness series (which I'm going to bug you to read).

  21. Aww this sounds so awesome, and I will definitely have to add it my to read list. I actually really like animals that talk especially if they're smart alecky ^.^

    Sniffly Kitty
    Sniffly Kitty's Mostly Books

  22. Wow, I'm touched alone by your review. Somehow your reviews always come off as humorous and full of depth. But, this one just screams BEAUTIFUL. I can't tell you how badly I want to read this book now. Emotional tearjerkers always seem to pull me in, and Plain Kate is no exception. Thank you!

    ~ Asher (from Paranormal Indulgence)

  23. Bookworm1858, I can understand being overwhelmed by the sadness. It really was a lot to handle. I can guess two parts that probably broke your heart, because they broke mine too. *hugs*

    Logan, Thank you! Aaaah, I know, I know. And Taggle isn't just a talking cat, he's a talking cat whose mouth moves and whose cat vocal chords make human words! But I adored him. Way to undermine my argument :P

    Gina, I'm loving MG books a lot more lately too. They don't have insta-love or love triangles or any of those things that have been flooding YA lately. There's no romance at all in Plain Kate. I really hope you love it!

    Stephanie, I can see you loving it. :) I don't think either cover really fits the story. This one looks to light and whimsical and the UK one, while pretty, doesn't really make me think of Kate or her story. It does have a more fairy tale vibe though.

    Nic, Very easily. It was the strangest thing, I hadn't even gotten very far into the book (maybe a few pages) and already I felt invested in Kate.

    Jana, Thank you! Yes, I think you would like this one.

    Sierra, I'm happy to hear it was worth the wait :) I hope you love it as much as I did!

    Linds, Yes, I feel like I've been very picky lately, but this book really blew me out of the water. I love a good sob book/movie, too, and Plain Kate DEFINITELY qualifies.

    Denise, Completely agree about needing a good sob and something different. PK hits both marks. I hope you enjoy it!

    Kay, Pure magic! I was shocked at how gripped I was in such a short period of time.

    Need-tea, Oh no, thank YOU! I am so indebted to you and your fantastic review. Aw, I'm sorry to hear you don't like the new comment form. I'm still iffy about it, though it does make replying to comments much easier.

    Heather, Oh sweetie, I hope you love it. But remember, sobbing! Especially as an animal lover and a mother. (Yay for Breadcrumbs!)

    T.B., Thank you! I really hope you love it.

    JessiKay89, Oh wonderful! Yes, I would love to talk about this one when you've finished. :)

    Alison, I've been avoiding all negative reviews for PK because it's too precious to me now and I don't want to taint my impression :) Taggle is very much NOT a stupid animal. I think if you like Grim from the Iron Fey books, then you'll like Taggle. They're both very much "a cat"

    Aylee, I think you'll like PK. The story was so different. It had a very familiar fairy tale vibe, but the events were unique enough that it felt like an original great fairy tale. Taggle is awesome, too :)

    Julie, I hope you like it!

    Natalie, I thought it was fantastic :) It wasn't a gentle tugging either!

    Alyssa, It really is! Even answering comments and thinking about the different events is making me emotional. It's like "Thinking of Harry Potter's final movie and the end of an era" kind of emotional.

    A Canadian Girl, Alanna has a cat that sounds like Taggle?! Be still my heart :) I can't wait! (and please do keep on me about it. I will be so disappointed in myself if I don't read that series this year).

    Sniffly Kitty, Ha, I think you will love Taggle then :) I hope you like the book!

    Asher, Aw, you're so sweet :) I hope you love it like I do.

  24. Oh my word! I guess I'll need private time and a box of tissues for this one. It's called Wood Angel here in the UK and is sitting on my shelf at the moment. It sounds awesome. Loved reading your review!

  25. The Slowest Bookworm, Oh yes, you will definitely need private time and tissues! I hope you like it :)

  26. I'm not normally a cry-er in books or films so it'll be amazing if this one does it for me finally! It really does sound lovely. I like it when characters have a lot of depth to them and complicated storylines that take you back through time. I look forward to reading this :)

  27. I was able to get this one as an audio book from the digital library. I'm already on chapter 8. Its soooo good, the writing style is beautiful, thanks so much for the recommendation.

  28. Secret Life of Books, I am a crier, but I think you'd have to be made of pretty stern stuff not to at least get a little misty-eyed. Hope you like it!

    Gina, Aaaww, I'm so happy you're enjoying it! Chapter eight...oh my, I just checked my copy to see where you are in the story. That scene you just finished was harrowing. I cannot wait to read your review. Especially as an, well, especially given what I know about you :)

  29. Rich, haunting, unforgettable, this story draws on Russian folklore to immerse the reader in a unique and fully realized fantasy world.

    I found the best Ipe Decking information


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