(I would have finished this book a lot sooner if it weren’t for my newfound and crippling obsession with Our Flag Means Death. I have no regrets, though. Everyone go watch that show and lose your minds with me. It’s so incredibly good!)
Anyway, I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In Nettle & Bone, Princess Marra is the youngest of three sisters. They live in a tiny kingdom bordered by two larger, more powerful kingdoms. To keep in their good graces, their parents have Marra’s eldest sister married to the prince of the Northern Kingdom. But she soon dies, and so the second sister is sent north too. Marra is starting to suspect that not all is well, but before she can do anything, her mother sends her to a convent. She’s being held in reserve, she realizes, in case she needs to be married off. Her suspicions soon prove true, though, and so she sets off on a quest. Because this isn’t a fairy tale where the princess marries the prince—this is the one where she kills him.
(Okay, I took that last line directly from the back of the book, because it’s just too good.)
I quite liked this story! Marra serves as a decent protagonist, layered and interesting. She straddles the line sometimes between heroine and damsel, though, and in the end I wished she had had a bit more agency overall, but oh well. She’s still a compelling character you want to root for.
The other characters are an eclectic bunch, and really entertaining. The dust-wife is crotchety and mysterious, while Agnes is sweet and silly but with power of her own. Bonedog is a delightful creature, and Fenris is somewhat simple but kind and respectful and a fantastic love interest. The more minor characters like Marra’s family and Vorling are also decently written. All in all, a great cast. No complaints from me!
The setting is a lot of fun, too. It feels like a fairy tale and also like a dark nightmare, depending on where you are. It feels like a big, lived-in world, which I really appreciate. Some of the “set pieces” like the catacombs/tombs were so cool and chilling! The magic was interesting, but not super groundbreaking. I did like the demonic chicken, though.
As I mentioned, my main issue with this story was with the main character. She’s strong, certainly, and willing to do whatever she can to right the wrongs done to her family, but she isn’t quite as capable as I wanted her to be. She depends upon a lot of other people to do the dirty work, so to speak. I kind of wish the author had gone all the way with her, in terms of her actions and direct contribution to the story. I don’t know. Maybe there’s something to be said for a fierce and determined heroine who also is willing to ask others for help. I can see it both ways.
In the end, Nettle & Bone was a wonderful book. It’s dark fantasy setting has plenty of peril and high stakes, but also has some feminist themes, a quality romance, and good character moments. Perhaps the protagonist let me down a little, but that didn’t ruin the story for me at all. There’s so much here that makes a great story, and I recommend it!
Nettle & Bone will be published on April 26th, 2022!