Review: Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow

Sunday, January 5, 2014
Title: Sorrow's Knot
Author: Erin Bow
Genre: fantasy, supernatural
Series: N/A
Pages: 365
Published: November 1 2013
Source: publishers via NetGalley/print ARC graciously donated by Ashleigh of The YA Kitten
Rating: 4/5

In the world of SORROW'S KNOT, the dead do not rest easy. Every patch of shadow might be home to something hungry, something deadly. Most of the people of this world live on the sunlit, treeless prairies. But a few carve out an uneasy living in the forest towns, keeping the dead at bay with wards made from magically knotted cords. The women who tie these knots are called binders. And Otter's mother, Willow, is one of the greatest binders her people have ever known.

But Willow does not wish for her daughter to lead the lonely, heavy life of a binder, so she chooses another as her apprentice. Otter is devastated by this choice, and what's more, it leaves her untrained when the village falls under attack. In a moment of desperation, Otter casts her first ward, and the results are disastrous. But now Otter may be her people's only hope against the shadows that threaten them. Will the challenge be too great for her? Or will she find a way to put the dead to rest once and for all?

Set in a matriarchal almost-was version of North America, Sorrow's Knot is a deeper, more rounded, and better envisioned novel than Bow's previous published work. As admirable and fun an effort Plain Kate was, it was more a labor of love than of sheer storytelling talent. But here, with her sophomore novel, Bow has gown and matured and her story and characters in Sorrow's Knot clearly reflect that growth. It's a story that can grow dark and sad, but Bow's strengths at characterization and writing shine throughout the novel.

Sorrow's Knot is a prime example of why I love the widely-sprung fantasy genre so much. No matter what age group you read in -- adult or YA -- there is so much variety and imagination at work in what these authors create. In what other genre would we have "weird fiction" like China Mieville and "odd fantasy" like Erin Bow? The world on display in Bow's second novel is utterly unique, and strange. It's the best kind of weird, odd, and strange.  The idea of binding and controlling the dead (with a YA protagonist) superficially reminds me of Garth Nix's Sabriel series, but this is a world all Bow's own. The worldbuilding is sparse and largely unexplored, but Otter's story is so tightly focused on Westmost, it matters little.

With so many disparate elements and ideas coming together rather neatly, Sorrow's Knot was a weirdly enjoyable story to read and one that was distinctly an Erin Bowman effort. Her writing style and voice are so distinctive and unique, it's easy to tell that the same creative mind behind Plain Kate is at work with Otter's tale. Otter's voice is a bit distant from the third person perspective used, but Bow evenly rounds out and presents the main character. Otter's struggles with her mother (and her grandmother) will ring true to a lot of readers, despite the former being from a fictional world with fiction troubles.

Erin Bow proved she had creativity and potential with her debut Plain Kate. With Sorrow's Knot, the writing and the characters of the story showed that her talents weren't limited to what we knew before. This is an already impressive author is who is improving on her craft. Her little subgenre of odd and creatively strange fantasy reminds me a bit of N.K. Jemisin's novels and her strong but human female characters are another reason to celebrate her novels. There are some small issues that plague the story (some vagueness on White Hands/supernatural, the pace can lag), but Sorrow's Knot is a great addition to the ever-growing list of YA fantasies.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you enjoyed this one, Jessie! I really loved it myself and was so impressed by the set-up and way multiple plot threads came together. Moreover, it was haunting! Lovely review, my friend - like you I can't wait for more by Erin Bow! :)


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