Book Review: Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

Title: Nettle & Bone
Author: T. Kingfisher
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: April 26, 2022
Length: 256 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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!

Book Review: Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower by Tamsyn Muir

Title: Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower
Author: Tamsyn Muir
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Publication date: November 30, 2020
Length: 216 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When the witch built the forty-flight tower, she made very sure to do the whole thing properly. Each flight contains a dreadful monster, ranging from a diamond-scaled dragon to a pack of slavering goblins. Should a prince battle his way to the top, he will be rewarded with a golden sword—and the lovely Princess Floralinda.

But no prince has managed to conquer the first flight yet, let alone get to the fortieth.

In fact, the supply of fresh princes seems to have quite dried up.

And winter is closing in on Floralinda… 

The idea of the princess rescuing herself isn’t exactly new anymore, thanks to the (incredibly welcome) surge in grrl-power fairy tale retellings. Still, in the hands of Tamsyn Muir, this princess story feels fresh and so, so entertaining.

Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower is a slim book (with a wonderful cover!), but it’s jam-packed with humor and adventure (and all sorts of guts and gore, but in a FUNNY gross way).

A witch has imprisoned the beautiful princess at the top of a tower. It’s a classic concept — princes will come, battle their way to the top, and win the lovely princess (and a rocking golden sword). The problem is, the very first flight is guarded by a fearsome diamond-coated dragon, and for the first several days, all Floralinda can hear from way up in her tower is the crunch-crunch-crunch of prince bones. Eventually, the princes stop coming, and Floralinda’s tower prison starts to feel dismal.

Joined by a wayward fairy named Cobweb, Floralinda is spurred into action. If the two of them don’t do something about it, she’ll be stuck in the tower forever — and the magically regenerating bread and oranges that felt like a treat at first are just not enough to sustain a princess forever.

Floralinda and Cobweb begin to battle their way down the flights of the tower, crafting weapons and poisons, using their wits and their muscles (Cobweb assigns Floralinda a workout regimen) to defeat sirens, goblins, giant rats, and sorts of other ghastly, deadly adversaries.

I love how Floralinda sheds her princessy exterior, becoming grimier and tougher, turning her silk gown into bandages and her curtain rods into spears, turning into a warrior without ever really meaning to. The relationship beween her and Cobweb is funny and sweet, even though Cobweb spends most of her time hating on Floralinda (even while making sure she’s got the weapons and training needed to kill all the monsters that stand between them and freedom).

Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower is a funny delight, and I’m so glad I treated myself to a copy. I think I’m the last person on the planet who hasn’t read Gideon the Ninth yet, but now that I’ve read this short treat by Tamsyn Muir, I definitely want to read her full-length works too.