Nettle & Bone by T Kingfisher
Marra has never been much of anything. The third-born daughter of a small kingdom parked between two larger kingdoms, she has seen her two older sisters married off, one after the other, to a wicked prince. Something has to be done to stop the cycle, but what can Marra do? She’s not particularly courageous or bright or witty, but she’s determined to do something. And so she seeks out a dust-witch, and is given three impossible tasks to complete.
Marra no longer had much faith in fate. She had been born a princess, which should have been lucky, but the price for never going hungry was to be caught in a struggle between people too powerful to call to justice.
This was incredible.
At first, though, the beginning was incredibly confusing and weird because it plops you right in the middle of the story, during task two. But after the dust settles and the bones are set, it gets right to the point, covers the backstory and boom, I was on my merry way reading this book that felt like a fairy tale while very much being its own thing—and also providing rather insightful critiques into fairy tales and fairy tale politics.
I have never read a T Kingfisher book, despite having many of her works on my tbr (and my kindle) for longer than I care to admit. This is more shameful than I care to admit, because I have followed her on Twitter for years (highly recommend, also because her mutuals and their online discussions are hilarious).
I don’t want to give too much away because this is one where I feel that reading it without expectations or summary (beyond the initial, somewhat misgiving blurb) heightens the magic.
“If I’m in a fairy tale, I might actually have a chance.”
“Fairy tales,” said the dust-witch heavily, “are very hard on bystanders. Particularly old women. I’d rather not dance myself to death in iron shoes, if it’s all the same to you.”
Anywho, I did love how the story warps and weaves, spinning through various fairy tales that feel familiar but are tweaked in several interesting ways. There is the “good but weak” fairy godmother, the “all-powerful wicked” fairy godmother, the witch, the knight, the prince charming who wasn’t, the princesses (including the princess in the tower and the third born princess), and the queen, and the curse wrapping them all into a storyline. There are loyal animal companions and ghosts. There is a quest, and then another quest. There are fairies and magic and promises and dead things that lurch and creep in the night.
It’s a story both dark and light, with a kind of dark humor that twists and spins and is hilarious in a oh shit everything is doomed and all we can do is laugh way that is also a well that’s a hilariously insightful way of critiquing fairy tales.
I’m purposefully talking around the plot itself, because, again, this is one that just needs to be experienced.
But the insights. The social commentary. The whole to what do we owe each other, if anything debate. The way trauma is handled, how privilege is examined, and how power (and its varying degrees) is depicted, along with right and wrong, obligation and need, womanhood and the patriarchy, and the fact that not everything is as cut and dry, black and white as we think, but woven together into increasingly complicated threads that tangle into knots instead of an elegant tapestry.
Anywho, my absolute favorite character is the dust-wife, mostly because I am partial to sarcastic, powerful old women who have lost all desire to flex and just want to get this shit over with already so they can go back home and manage their graveyard and chickens.
I recommend this to anyone looking for a book that is critical of fairy tales while also being a fairy tale, to those who are yearning for nostalgia while also wanting something new, and to anyone looking to dip their toes into Kingfisher’s written waters.
I highlighted so many quotations in this book because they just spoke to me, but I’ll leave with just one final quote.
But just because you need someone doesn’t mean they are under any obligation to provide.”
If you need me, I’ll be reading (heh, procrastinating) her very extensive backlist.
I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Nettle & Bone releases April 26, 2022 from Tor Books.