Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher
Publication Date: April 26th, 2022
Hardcover. 256 pages.
About Nettle & Bone:
"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."
I absolutely loved this book, and it should really come as no surprise based upon how much I’ve loved T. Kingfisher's other work so far. Nettle & Bone has all the perfect amounts of fantasy, darkness, fairy tale, quirkiness, and humor all mixed into one story. From what I’ve read of Kingfisher’s work so far, it has her stamp all over it while still being new and exciting, and it could not be mistaken for any other author.
Nettle & Bone follows Marra, one of three princesses in the Harbor Kingdom who must watch as her two sisters are subsequently married off to a foreign prince and discover that life married to a prince is not what they expected. Marra, having been sent off to a nunnery at a young age, decides to embark upon a journey to figure out how to save her sister from a cruel prince that she has been married off to, and it is this journey that really makes up most of the story, a journey in which she discovers much of the darkness of the world and also makes many new and wonderful companions and friends throughout.
The cast of characters in this book was wonderful and I loved them all, including our protagonist Marra, the dust-wife, Fenris, the godmother Agnes, Finder, Bonedog, and of course the demon chicken. Marra’s quiet strength and determination is a combination I love seeing in fiction and one that I think worked perfectly for this meaningful story. I adored her interactions with each new character we meet along her journey to save her sister and her resilience at every step of the way was a true pleasure to watch. She isn't without her doubts and fears, but rather than letting these stop her she allows them to drive her to work harder to get to her sister.
When I think about the cast of characters, I start to think, "Fenris was my favorite!" before thinking, "Wait, no, the dust-wife is!" before remembering Agnes, and so on, and then I realize that I just loved all of them and you couldn't tell this story without a single one them, even the demon chicken. Each characters brings something so important to this story, both in tangible ways and from their personalities and general contributions. The dust-wife is dry and witty and amply prepared; she may not know exactly what is coming next, but she's not about to let it get the best of her. Fenris is quiet, somewhat stoic, and utterly loyal to those with him, though he is not without his own motivations and thoughts. And of course lovely Agnes, with a heart of gold and also a bit a fire. I'll let you discover the demon chicken, Bonedog, and Finder on your own, but they are all the best little animal companions you could hope for, each with their own special qualities.
This world is so full and imaginative and simply brimming with curiosity and inventiveness. There are so many tiny little details littered throughout this world, such as those that can be found during Marra and the dust-wife's visit to a goblin market where they attempt to better equip themselves for their journey. This is one of those stories with an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue, where things both are and aren't at all what they seem, and this is best exemplified by this aforementioned goblin market, where people sell and trade for all sorts of magic, enchantments, and so much more. You never know what's around the corner, in both the goblin market and within this entire world found within Nettle & Bone.
Near the latter half of the story the pacing slowed considerably and I would say almost dragged a little, but since I personally luxuriate in each and every sentence that T. Kingfisher writes, I really did not mind getting to spend more time in this world and with these characters. If you aren’t as invested as me, I could see it as a little bit more of a negative, but I don’t think it was enough to really detract from the story overall in a large way. Outside of this portion, I felt that the pacing was really well done and kept the story moving with the perfect amount of momentum.
The only thing I found that didn’t work quite as well for me was the initial structure of past and present that eventually merged into a general present. I figured out the past and present situation pretty quickly, but the setting of the blighted land that was first introduced that seemed to focus pretty heavily on the presence of horrible cannibals made it seem as if it was going to be a bigger part of the story than it was. There were times when I wondered what the purpose of this part of the story was other than to act as a general introduction to this world and the sort of darker undertones of the world, as well as a hook to draw readers into the world. I didn't dislike this beginning, but it is one that I still feel slightly uncertain about.
Lastly, I just have to note that were moments in this story, especially those including Marra and Fenris, that reminded me quite a bit of Christina Henry’s Alice in all the best ways and made me fall even deeper in love with this book. That’s not to say they are the same thing by any means, simply that some of the character elements and atmosphere from Nettle & Bone reminded me of Alice, so if you like one of those books then you might like the other, just as a recommendation.
Overall, I've given Nettle & Bone five stars! I adored this book so much and cannot wait to see what T. Kingfisher has up her sleeve next. If you like dark fairy tales, endless wit and quirk, and an unforgettable journey filled with memorable and colorful characters, then you absolutely need to grab a copy of Nettle & Bone and dive right in.
*I received a copy of Nettle & Bone courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*