Plain Kate by Erin Bow

Mar 28, 2012

Set in a world resembling medieval Russia, Plain Kate starts with small and ugly Kate Carver, who must watch her beloved father die.  He has witch’s fever, and soon, an anti-magic hysteria grips the land.  The gypsy-like Roamers are persecuted, people are burned.  And even Kate herself may be in danger.

Desperate to find a safe place for herself and her cat Taggle, she agrees to give her shadow to a stranger named Linay in exchange for a new life.    But after she begins to make a home for herself with the Gypsy-like Roamers, a new threat and Plain Kate’s missing shadow begin to twist together into a darkness that could destroy everyone and everything that Plain Kate holds dear.  Armed with nothing but determination and her carving tools, she decides to reclaim her shadow from Linay and put a stop to the fog-born terror that is devouring the country.

This novel is immensely readable, with quick but subtle prose, and characters that are three-dimensional and fully realized.  Plain Kate’s talking cat Taggle is one of the most rewarding treasures inside this novel, recalling the tiny nobility of Reepicheep from The Chronicles of Narnia and, at the same time, the honesty of the dogs from Up.  “Hello,” Taggle says to Kate at one point.  “I am very fond of you and present my throat for scratching.” 

The clear and vivid writing would appeal to tweens, teens and adults alike, and Plain Kate herself would appeal to anyone who appreciates a female protagonist who doesn’t need a love interest or a secret destiny or a magical power to save the world.

Reviewed by Library Staff