Plain Kate by Erin Bow

Plain Kate by Erin Bow was one of my Want Books pick back in September. The cover is beautiful enough to make you want to pick up the book. Aside from that, I’ve seen several glowing reviews about it. Good thing the US hardcover edition is available in Fully Booked for P810.

Here’s the summary from Erin Bow’s website:

In a market town by a looping river there lived an orphan girl called Plain Kate…

Kate’s is a colorful world of brokenhearted magicians, wandering gypsy clans, carved charms and stolen shadows. It’s a dark world of ghosts, fog and questions. It’s a dangerous world of witch burnings, persecution and plague. Her story is a coming-of-age story, a story about family and belonging, trust and betrayal, bravery and sacrifice, death and what lies beyond. Also, there’s a talking cat in it.

A Russian-flavored historical fantasy for readers twelve and up.

It’s pretty obvious based on the books that I read that I love epic fantasy – I have a fondness for fairy tale-like stories and historical fiction blended with fantasy. That said, Plain Kate is definitely my kind of story. Plain Kate unfortunately had the adjective plain attached to her name because it aptly describes her, there’s nothing remarkable about this girl except for her skill at wood carving (although she does have mismatched eyes kind of like a Graceling). A few pages in and you know it’s going to be a heartbreaking story. Plain Kate’s father passes away and she’s left with nothing. Usually, I’m a fan of warrior women in fantasy but I like Plain Kate even if she isn’t like that – what she lacks in physical strength, she more than makes up for in strength of character. She hasn’t had an easy life but she gets by. Until a pale-faced man with true power comes into town, looking to get Plain Kate’s shadow away from her.

Plain Kate isn’t your usual fantasy or YA story – it doesn’t have romance in it, for instance. It’s a coming-of-age story of a girl struggling to make it in the world who ends up getting tangled in something bigger. It’s a story full of sadness but it does have its light moments. There are people who help Plain Kate in their own small ways. Also, in exchange for her shadow, the male witch Linay gives her cat, Taggle, the power to speak. Taggle is probably my favorite character in the book, he has the best lines. What I really liked about the novel is that there’s no black and white in it and instead has different shades of gray. The townspeople aren’t necessarily evil, they’re just afraid and scared people tend to do stupid things. The villain, Linay, isn’t very easy to hate because as the story progresses, you learn his reasons for doing the things that he does. Plain Kate is a debut novel full of lyrical writing and I highly recommend it to fantasy fans out there. I can see people falling in love with this one.

I’m going to be on the lookout for Erin Bow’s next novel, especially since it’s going to have a Filipino character in it. Check out Unshelved’s webcomic based on Plain Kate.

Other reviews: (manually generated)
Bookshelves of Doom
The Book Smugglers
Good Books and Good Wine
Charlotte’s Library
Book Aunt

13 thoughts on “Plain Kate by Erin Bow

  1. You are right, it’s very very hard to hate any of the characters in this book, because they all have complex motivations.

    The more I think about it, the more it seems Plain Kate is a bit more complex than the other books on the shelf.

    • You’re right, the characters are really very complex. I actually had a hard time writing my review for this book because I didn’t think I could do it justice.

      Erin Bow is a talented writer and I really can’t wait to read her next book. The premise is really interesting and I hope it’s just as good as (or even better than) this one.

  2. It’s available here already? Good thing I did not buy the ebook yet! But hm, still a bit expensive. I wonder who I can ask this book for on Christmas. 😕

    Talking animals are always a plus to me in books, what more a talking cat. 🙂

    • Tina, yes it’s available already and yes, it’s a little pricey. Maybe your Santa in the Holiday Swap can give it to you. 😛 Or you can always ask for Fully Booked GCs whenever someone wants to know what you want for Christmas.

      Taggle is such a character in this book! You will really enjoy reading about him.

    • Ladybug, hmm I wouldn’t really say it’s a very sad read, it’s just not it’s not a happy one, you know? I’m usually all for feel good reads but I enjoyed this one even if it wasn’t like that. LOL sorry I couldn’t explain it very well, I don’t want to give away any spoilers.

  3. the heroine sounds very engaging. the russian flavor to the story makes this book more intriguing to me. i think this is a great recommendation.

    • Hey Michelle, hope you can give this a try. I really liked Plain Kate as a heroine. Also, you rarely encounter good standalone books in epic fantasy so that’s an added bonus. 🙂

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