Title: Nettle & Bone
Author: T. Kingfisher
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: April 26, 2022
Length: 256 pages
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
After years of seeing her sisters suffer at the hands of an abusive prince, Marra—the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter—has finally realized that no one is coming to their rescue. No one, except for Marra herself.
Seeking help from a powerful gravewitch, Marra is offered the tools to kill a prince—if she can complete three impossible tasks. But, as is the way in tales of princes, witches, and daughters, the impossible is only the beginning.
On her quest, Marra is joined by the gravewitch, a reluctant fairy godmother, a strapping former knight, and a chicken possessed by a demon. Together, the five of them intend to be the hand that closes around the throat of the prince and frees Marra’s family and their kingdom from its tyrannous ruler at last.
This is my 4th book by T. Kingfisher, and I’ve never once been disappointed! Nettle & Bone is another terrific tale from this gifted author.
I’m not sure why I expected horror (well, it was probably a misinterpretation of the cover), but this isn’t that! Nettle & Bone is a fairy tale about curses and kingdoms and doomed princesses — but forget all the traditional stories about dashing princes riding to the rescue. Here, the rescuer is none other than one of the princesses, the overlooked third daughter of a king and queen whose tiny kingdom is constantly threatened by the larger kingdoms along its borders.
To save their kingdom, the royal couple marry off their oldest daughter Damia to Prince Vorling of the Northern Kingdom, but soon after their marriage, the princess dies. The Northern Kingdom still has its eyes on the smaller kingdom’s ideally located ports, and to keep their land safe, the king and queen send their second daughter Kania to be the prince’s new bride. The prince longs for the day when he and his heirs are the sole rulers of both kingdoms, and to that end, he insists that the third daughter, Marra, remain unmarried, so that there will be no competing heirs to the thrown.
Marra is perfectly content with this arrangement, and spends the next years of her life as an “almost” nun at a convent that’s much more about female empowerment than strict rules or deprivations. Over time, however, Marra becomes aware that something is seriously wrong with Kania’s marriage. Fearing for her sister’s life, Marra sets out to save her, enlisting the aid of a dustwife (a woman with the ability to speak to the dead), a godmother, and a disgraced knight whom she frees from enslavement to the fae.
With her strange band of allies, Marra sets off to the Northern Kingdom, determined to rescue her sister, break an ancient curse, and protect her own kingdom… and hopefully, not get killed along the way.
Nettle & Bone is often funny, and the author has a light touch with humor and clever dialogue. At the same time, Kania’s situation is disturbing and serious, and the book manages to balance the adventurous tone with the heavier themes related to Marra’s quest and its dire nature.
The situations the band of allies encounter are often absurd, but quite entertaining, and I loved how the fairy tale tropes used here receive fresh, new twists.
T. Kingfisher excels at depicting creepy scenes too, as is evident from the book’s opening lines:
The trees were full of crows and the woods were full of madmen. The pit was full of bones and her hands were full of wires.
From this opening, I expected a much more sinister feel overall to the book, and was happily surprised to find many lighter-spirited moments and even downright silliness amidst the high stakes perils and quests.
All in all, Nettle & Bone is a terrific read. The author has another new book coming out this summer, and meanwhile, I have a few of her backlist books yet to read on my Kindle!