Trigger warning for intimate partner violence.
When someone tells us something is impossible, we usually take that pronouncement at face value. We know that we either don’t have the talent to do the thing or that the thing requires too many resources or changes or that the thing violates the laws of physics. When Marra hears that something is impossible, she does the thing. She does the thing because not doing the thing means that her sister will die at the hands of a wicked prince. In Nettle & Bone, by T. Kingfisher, we see Marra and her band of allies take on the impossible in this dark but very satisfying fantasy. This book will be perfect for readers who like fairy tales but who also wish that they could be a little more practical.
Marra is the youngest of three sisters in a very small kingdom caught between two more powerful ones. In order to eke out a little more independence, Marra’s mother arranges for Marra’s oldest sister to marry the prince of the northern kingdom. When this sister dies abruptly, Marra’s next oldest sister goes as a replacement. Marra is sent to a convent to be kept out of the way. She is not very diplomatic; she asks far too many questions for anyone’s comfort. But when she’s summoned north for her sister’s laying-in and subsequent christening of her niece, those uncomfortable questions reveal that the prince is dangerously violent. Marra has to do something to get her sister out of there while also avoiding an invasion of her home. It’s an impossible task, but we know from page one that Marra isn’t afraid of doing impossible things in the name of saving lives.
On page one of Nettle & Bone, we see Marra create a dog from bones and wire. Anyone else would say that this is impossible. To Marra, the bone dog is just the latest in a list of impossible tasks given to her by a dust-wife (a witch who can speak with the dead) in exchange for help getting rid of the prince. Before long, Marra assembles a group of unlikely heroes to go north and death with the magically protected prince: the bone dog and the dust wife, of course, but also a warrior who made the mistake of sleeping in a fairy ring and a godmother who is better at cursing things than delivering blessings.
Once I got the hang of the book’s tone (adventurous with lashings of metafictional snark), I enjoyed the hell out of Nettle & Bone. Marra delighted me as a heroine and I loved Kingfisher’s originality. I would definitely recommend this to readers looking for a fast, fun read that’s not too fluffy.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.