NETTLE AND BONE by T Kingfisher
Titan Books, hardback, £16.99
Reviewed by Stephen Frame
Nettle and Bone is about Princess Marra’s quest to kill her sister’s husband, Prince Vorling before he kills her sister. Marra’s problem is that she doesn’t like her sister, and she has lived most of her life cloistered in an abbey, so she knows almost nothing about how to set about her task. But she does know how to weave and sew, so she is not completely at a loss.
The quest starts with Marra’s single-minded determination but soon sees her gathering up a found family consisting of a grave-witch, a fairy godmother, a warrior, a dog made of bones and a chicken possessed by a demon. Together, they take themselves off to bring about the end of Prince Vorling, encountering the requisite quest-related difficulties along the way.
Only, Nettle and Bone isn’t a typical fantasy quest novel. Most of the difficulties they face along the way are solved by hard work and determination, wisdom, negotiation, guesswork and sometimes, cups of tea.
The story is very much character-led, especially in Marra, who fights a complex inner battle over her feelings towards her sister and her mother, her abhorrence of how her sister is exploited to produce an heir for the prince and her own horror that she will be married to him next if her sister fails in the reproductive task forced on her. The downside to this is that Marra comes across as a somewhat passive character in the progress of the quest. Much of the heavy lifting in the quest is left to the secondary characters.
The narrative is rich in ideas and imagery. It’s a lush read, but the backstory is minimal, which works well for this piece. Overall, the story might be best described as a cosy fantasy, except at times, it becomes very far from cosy, especially around the politics of court, the price Marra’s family have to pay to maintain peace with their powerful neighbours and the abuses Prince Vorling heaps on Marra’s sister.