Arthur A. Levine Books
Fiction, YA Fantasy
DESCRIPTION: Daughter of a woodcarver, Kate held a knife before she could hold a spoon. By the time she was eleven, she was the equal of any master, though not old enough to be a proper apprentice. But then her father fell ill and died with the fever that ravaged the land... and the villagers, seeking a witch to blame, began looking askance at Plain Kate with her too-long nose and mismatched eyes and uncannily clever carvings. For some time, she scraped by, until then a fresh danger reawakened the old rumor. Kate becomes desperate to escape - desperate enough to sell her shadow to the strange, pale man who haunts the market square. But the bargain isn't what she thought it would be, as she's driven from town with her only friend, the gray tom Taggle. When she learns what the witch man Linay plans to do with her shadow, she realizes she must do anything to get it back before the whole countryside perishes under a terrible curse.
REVIEW: Plain Kate has the flavor of an old fairy tale, set in a world reminiscent of Eastern Europe where magic is real, songs become spells, and blood
and shadows have great powers. Kate herself makes a decent heroine, not infallible but doing her best to survive and fix the mistakes she inadvertently makes. Taggle,
granted speech by Linay's magic, makes a fun and clever sidekick who never quite loses his feline nature. As for Linay, he's that most dangerous and devious sort of
antagonist, driven not by greed or pride but by a wounded heart. The tale takes some dark turns, bound up in themes of fear and superstition and the lengths one will go to in order to find peace after tragedy. It moves fairly fast, coming at last to an ending that feels a little drawn out and slightly off-kilter for some reason; that, and a few other minor quibbles, almost cost it half a star, but the overall originality - especially when everyone and their brother seems to be rewriting the old standards of Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and so forth - managed to earn it back. If you're looking for a fast read in an original-yet-familiar world that has an old-school storytelling feel, this is a good place to start.
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