Book Review: “Plain Kate” by Erin Bow

Warning: If you have not read “Plain Kate” by Erin Bow, don’t read this book unless you don’t mind spoilers!

I’m back with another book review, and this time it’s “Plain Kate” by Erin Bow! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:

“Plain Kate lives in a world of magic and curses, where cats can talk and shadows can bring back the dead. As the wood-carver’s daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden talismans seem to reveal hidden truths about their owners.

But she and her village have fallen on hard times: Kate’s father dies, crops fail, and a strange sickness is spreading across the countryside. The village is looking for someone to blame, and for her skill with a knife, Kate is accused of witchcraft.

Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: If Kate gives him her shadow, he’ll grant her heart’s wish, and he’ll also find a way for her to escape the angry townspeople. Kate reluctantly agrees, not realizing that she’s given a powerful tool to a man driven mad with grief. Aided by new friends and armed with the carving knife that has never failed to show her the truth, Kate must stop Linay in his terrible plan of revenge and become the heroine she knows is within her.”

Kate was an interesting protagonist to read. She clearly grieves the death of her father, but the moment her father dies, she doesn’t let that get in the way of her trying to stay alive herself. Knowing too well the distrust people have towards witches, it’s only once the villagers start blaming her for their hard times that she does turn to Linay for help, and even after her deal is made, she’s still determined to be independent and live her life the way she wants to. Once she sets her mind on a goal, she never wavers from reaching it, and I love that about her character. Unfortunately, that’s the only interesting part of her character overall. Sure, she drives the main action of the story, but there isn’t much to her personality or any development other than the driving determination to get things done.

Linay as an antagonist felt a bit flat to me overall. I liked how he was related to Dreana, and how the person he was trying to resurrect was his mother. I also liked how he was so dead-set on what he wanted to do, just like Kate. Unfortunately, he also suffers from a lack of development, other than the book giving reason for why he does the things he does.

If there were any characters that got development, it was the cat companion of Kate, Taggle. Not only does he go from non-speaking, to speaking, to non-speaking again, he also had a lot of nice dialogue bits that helped shape him as a funny character, but also a loyal one that literally risks his life to save everyone. Yes, he actually did this late in the book.

The worldbuilding and plot were overall understandable, but I feel like much of the plot relied on its worldbuilding, specifically the magic bits of it, as opposed to the characters driving the story overall. The plot was driven by the worldbuilding affecting the characters, rather than what the characters themselves do with the worldbuilding that is applied to them.   For example, because of the whole stigma against witches for majority if not all of the book, as well as the notion that not having a shadow means that you’re either dead or you got into a deal with a witch (the latter being Kate’s case, but the former situation being what a lot of people assume), this affected Kate’s journey and how she reacted to it, rather than how she had to work with this stigma to try to stop Linay from what he was doing.

Overall, I’m rating this book 3 out of 5 stars.

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