I have never read a book quite like this one. What made it so unique was the setting and the atmosphere, all of which were set by the gorgeous writingI have never read a book quite like this one. What made it so unique was the setting and the atmosphere, all of which were set by the gorgeous writing. The writing starts out very simple, very basic, but it grew into something moody, mysterious, lyrical and at times beautiful. The setting was extremely well built, the medieval world of Eastern Europe, which came alive with every perfectly chosen word. Though medieval settings have been done time and time again, there was something new and interesting about this one. It was never 'once upon a time, in a magical kingdom far far away...', but it had a very magical, fairytale-like atmosphere. Not Disney fairytale though, but much darker, like true fairytales. From the rolling countryside and little towns, to the twisting river and chilling fog, the world of this book held just the right level of magic and mystery.
The setting was perfect, but what made this book even more magical were the characters who populated it. Kate, the main character, was far from a kick-ass Katniss, but she had remarkable strength and talent. Her talent, woodcarving, was fascinating to read about, and not something you see in a typical heroine. She was pretty well fleshed out and her determination even when things went wrong was impressive. The fact that she was plain, and later, rather ugly, was new and interesting, since authors tend to shy away from declaring their heroine as anything less than a little pretty. To make up for it, Kate was an orphan, which is super common in stories, but actually worked to Kate's favor, showing just how tough she could be. Tough as she was though, Kate did show real emotion, and wasn't one of those heroines who were so tough, they wouldn't even cry. Kate balanced strength with real emotion, making her very convincing and real.
Kate was great, but the one who stole the show was Taggle, her talking cat. The fact that this book had a talking cat was one of the reasons I picked it up in the first place, and Taggle did not disappoint. Funny, adorable and very much a cat in his fierceness, independence and love of fish, Taggle was also a very loyal friend to Kate, almost as much as any dog would be (though he would never admit it). Their relationship was simply perfect in a very sweet way. The way they were so protective of each other and how (view spoiler)[ Taggle sacrificed himself at the end (sob!) (hide spoiler)] was so sweet.
Other characters, especially the Roamers, were interesting but not quite fleshed out enough, like Drina, Daj, Stivo and Behjet. I would have liked to learn more about them, and been shown more depth to them. As for very minor characters like the woman in Toila and Niki the Baker, it would have been fascinating to see them play a larger part. However, the villain, Linay, made up for that in being the most sympathetic bad guy ever. He's no comic book villain or evil monster who's simply 'evil' but a very complicated human being (if witches are humans) with good yet misguided intentions. He's probably the first villain who I didn't only understand but also liked in a real way, not a 'everyone loves a great bad guy' way. Well done, Erin Bow.
The magic in this book was very creative and interesting. The idea that magic always comes with a price is always great to read about, making the magic that much more dark. Shadows, blood, fire and tears were much more effective uses of mysterious magic as opposed to if the witches had been carrying around magic wands. The concept of witch hunting was also very exciting. All in all, it was a very magical novel, and setting limits and prices to the magic definitely upped its credibility.
The plot is sufficiently complicated and original to keep you turning pages, though it did lag a bit by the 100 page point, starting off a little too slow, then speeding up soon after. The writing was so simple that at first it bothered me, but then, once I realized how masterful it really was, I enjoyed it tremendously. Erin does not drop words lightly and every sentence adds to the atmosphere. The beginning was good, yet slightly too impersonal to get me truly invested into the character of Kate until later. Also, the lack of point of view at the start didn't give the death of Kate's father the emotional impact it could have if Kate had been more of a narrator. As for the end, it was just right. Bitter-sweet yet hopeful, though a little too open. The fate of the other characters hadn't been established and it would have been nice to see what was going to happen to Drina and the other Roamers.
Overall 4.5 stars for giving me a one of kind novel set in a one of a kind world. Bonus points for having an author from Canada:)...more