Author: Erin Bow
Publication Date: 9/1/10
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine
Blurb (GR): The drizzle had broken into patches as they walked. As Drina scooped up the pale sand, Kate found herself standing in the smudge of shadow cast by the deadfall. She had never before noticed the way shadows gave things weight, made them look heavy and real and connected to the ground. Without hers...
She edged into the light.
Her shadow looked strange and thinned. It seemed not cast against the ground, but floating above it, like a fog. What Linay had said was true: No one would notice this, at first. It was just an uneasy little change, like the half-felt movement of a boat that slowly induces a great sickness.
Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep magic. As the wood-carver's daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden talismans are so fine that some even call her “witch-blade”: a dangerous nickname in a country where witches are hunted and burned in the square.
For Kate and her village have fallen on hard times. Kate’s father has died, leaving her alone in the world. And a mysterious fog now covers the countryside, ruining crops and spreading fear of hunger and sickness. The townspeople are looking for someone to blame, and their eyes have fallen on Kate.
Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: In exchange for her shadow, he’ll give Kate the means to escape the angry town, and what’s more, he’ll grant her heart’s wish. It’s a chance for her to start over, to find a home, a family, a place to belong. But Kate soon realizes she can't live shadowless forever -- and that Linay's designs are darker than she ever dreamed .
I cannot believe this is Erin Bow's first novel. In the acknowledgments she mentions that she worked on this book for six years--it shows. From the first page, the author drops you into the story and there honestly was no drag throughout the entire book. We are introduced to Kate and her father, both woodcarvers who live in Similae. The surrounding communities have been plagued with death, torrential rains, and crop damage and the people of Kate's town, as well as other towns, are on the lookout for witches who could be causing the troubles. After Kate's father passes away, she is left quite alone in the world. This book follows her in her journey to survive and, geez, does Kate have it rough.
The ease and accessibility of reading this book, as well as Kate's age indicate that this is more of a middle reader book. However, the themes of this book are very dark--murder, hanging witches, raising the dead. death. dying. just tons of dying. *sigh* But Kate is one of the most upbeat and scrappy characters I've ever read. She stands up for herself and is loyal to her friends. Speaking of friends, Kate has a speaking cat, Taggle, who is a total highlight of this work. He is hilarious and their friendship seems more realistic than many human friendships I've read as of late. There is really no romance to speak of and I'm glad of it--it would feel inappropriate in this case and the story supports itself without a romantic element.
Erin Bow's writing style is lovely--informative and descriptive without bogging the story down. (like when you think about reading Tolkien and then decide that you'd like to actually get somewhere on the journey instead of reading a description of a mossy rock for a whole page. Fine, you caught me, I'm exaggerating, but you get my point!) I will definitely read anything she writes in the future. I hope she makes the jump up to YA or even to adult fantasy.