If I had to sum up why I like Kingfisher and her books so much, it’s because she creates characters that I desperately want to know and be friends with in real life. And not just her human characters. All of the animals she brings to life are just perfect. In her latest novel, Nettle & Bone, that includes a dog made only of bones and brought to life by magic, but who’s still just as dog as a dog can be. (Oh, and there’s a demon-possessed chicken.)
As you might have guessed from that, Nettle & Bone is a fantasy story. Or to be more specific, a dark fairy tale. Marra is a princess, sent to live in a convent as a backup should her sisters fail in their strategic marriages. Her family rules a small but vital kingdom with an important port that neighboring kingdoms have long eyed. To provide some protection, Marra’s eldest sister wed the prince of the northern kingdom. Sadly, she died under mysterious circumstances. The second daughter then replaced her sister as the prince’s wife. She successfully gives birth, but to a daughter. When Marra arrives in the castle for her niece’s christening, she makes a disturbing discovery. Upon return to the convent, Marra realizes that she is the only person who can save her sister, and possibly her kingdom.
But she doesn’t know where to begin. “If we were men…” she thinks to herself. However, as the powerless echo time and again:
They were not and the history of the world was written in women’s wombs and women’s blood and she would never be allowed to change it.
Rage shivered through her, a rage that seemed like it could topple the halls of heaven, then vanished under the knowledge of her own helplessness. Rage was only useful if you were allowed to do anything with it.
As she is unable to transform into a dragon, it seems hopeless. But then she realizes she could enlist the help of a dust-wife. Dust-wives were women who lived by graveyards and worked with the dead, along with doing other general witchy things. A dust-wife could give her the power to kill the prince. Of course, it’s never as simple as just asking for help. Marra must prove herself and on the way, she collects friends and allies, ready to challenge Prince Charming.
Kingfisher creates amazing worlds and this one is no different. The magic is fun and I love what she does with the idea of the fairy godmother. The other two books of hers that I’ve read, The Hollow Places and The Twisted Ones, are more horror-ific (I’ll probably never forget her descriptions of the horrors of the Hollow Places), but even in those, her humor and her protagonists make you think you could handle it if they stay with you. I’m thrilled to add Marra and her companions to that group.
(CW: domestic abuse, miscarriage)