In Erin Bow’s first novel, Plain Kate, an enthralling fantasy set in a time and place much like medieval Europe, it’s the skara rok, or hungry time, and the folk of Samilae are eager to blame anyone a little odd for the town’s diminishing supplies and growing illnesses. With “one eye the color of river mud and one eye the color of the river” and a gift for carving popular talismans that surpasses her teenage years, orphan Plain Kate Carver knows she’ll be accused of witchcraft soon.
When a “witch-white” stranger offers to grant Plain Kate her heart’s secret wish in exchange for her shadow, the lonely girl begrudgingly accepts the bargain as a way to flee the town. Feeling as if she’s lost a part of her soul, she secretly departs the only home she’s ever known with Taggle, a talking cat, as her companion. Plain Kate is soon taken in by the Roamers, a traveling, Romani-like clan, and befriended by Drina, whose mother, a healer and a witch, was sentenced to death for her practices.
This elaborate story takes on more twists and turns as Drina begins to teach her the rules of magic and the friends conspire to reclaim Plain Kate’s shadow. But things don’t always go according to plan when Plain Kate discovers the witch-white stranger’s true identity and his diabolical plot.
Plain Kate’s natural talents and bravery will endear her to teen readers. Her cat Taggle, who’s willing to claw any man or beast to save his beloved owner, also adds light humor to this tale of dark magic. As the pair travels together, finding friendship and saving their small world in the process, the novel’s fantastical elements come together to create a spellbinding ending.