Book Review : Nettle & Bone

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : Nettle & BoneNettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher
Published by Tor Books on April 26th 2022
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Action & Adventure
Pages: 320
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Source: NetGalley

From Hugo, Nebula, and Locus award-winning author T. Kingfisher comes an original and subversive fantasy adventure.
This isn't the kind of fairytale where the princess marries a prince. It's the one where she kills him.
Marra never wanted to be a hero.
As the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter, she escaped the traditional fate of princesses, to be married away for the sake of an uncaring throne. But her sister wasn’t so fortunate—and after years of silence, Marra is done watching her suffer at the hands of a powerful and abusive prince.
Seeking help for her rescue mission, Marra is offered the tools she needs, but only if she can complete three seemingly impossible tasks:—build a dog of bones—sew a cloak of nettles—capture moonlight in a jar
But, as is the way in tales of princes and witches, doing the impossible is only the beginning.
Hero or not—now joined by a disgraced ex-knight, a reluctant fairy godmother, an enigmatic gravewitch and her fowl familiar—Marra might finally have the courage to save her sister, and topple a throne.

Nettle & Bone’s premise is that of a typical fairytale—our heroine must complete three seemingly impossible tasks in order to receive help on an incredible quest. Though the premise is traditional fairy tale fare, the story itself is anything but typical. Our heroine is not a young, teenaged heir to the throne, but the third-born, thirty-something princess, who was sent to a convent to wait for  the birth of her elder sisters’ heirs. Quiet and timid, the convent is a solace, not a cage to our heroine, Marra. However, when she learns there’s something sinister to her sisters’ marriages, and that death is on the doorstep of her sole remaining sister, she sets out on a desperate quest to save the day.


“Three tasks the dust-wife had given her. Sew a cloak of owlcloth and nettles, build a dog of cured bones, and catch moonlight in a jar of clay….Three tasks, and then the dust-wife would give her the tools to kill a prince.”


Our all-too-happy-to-be-forgotten princess seeks not the help of a daring young knight, but a powerful “dust-wife” or grave witch, in order to aid her on her quest to save her sister, and to not-so-coincidentally murder her sister’s evil husband, Prince Vohrling. Armed with a demon-chicken, a bone dog, and a cloak made of nettles, they set out on their journey. Along the way, they encounter dark spirits, enter a dangerous goblin market, rescue a murderer, and enlist a fairy godmother who’s infinitely better at curses than blessings. Though Nettle & Bone sounds like it borders on the ridiculous, it doesn’t. 


“‘You’re bringing the hen?’ 

‘She’s got a demon in her,’ said the dust-wife. ‘It’d be rude to leave her for the neighbors to deal with.’”


Author T. Kingfisher deftly balances humor and a dark and creepy atmosphere as expertly as her heroine spins her cloak of nettles. I absolutely loved this unique twist on traditional fairy tales, and delighted that everything was not as it seemed. Sometimes the most magical stories are the ones we can see ourselves in and I think this was definitely part of why I loved Nettle & Bone so much. It was utterly refreshing to read about a heroine my own age, who was content with a quiet life out of the spotlight, and wasn’t off to attend a ball, reclaim a lost throne at great cost, or any other conventional princess storyline.


Though a tale of vengeance, in a way, I often found myself laughing aloud at Kingfisher’s signature humor. The hilariousness of a demon chicken who takes a crap on a ghost, is so well interspersed with the creepiness of the drowned that haunt bodies of water or the eeriness and horror that is a cursed child possessing a willing adult. I personally didn’t care quite as much for the romance of Nettle & Bone as much as other aspects of the novel. Though sweet, I could have done without this relationship entirely. I suppose no fairy tale is complete without a love story, but I truly didn’t find it to be a necessary part of a novel that seeks to be different from the model fairy tale. And as Marra was such an independent young lady, who prized her freedom as a nun, it was hard for me to believe she even wanted a man in her life. 


I also found the world-building to be minimal in Nettle & Bone. There are vague references to diseased lands, other kingdoms, and even saints and gods, but not much development on them. Nettle & Bone is still a great read even without more detail to its world, but I couldn’t help but to wonder how much better it could have been with further exposition on these things. I so quickly grew to love this strange world, with its mysterious saints, old crones that command the dead, and goblin market, that I couldn’t help but want to know more about it. 


Nettle & Bone is truly a must read for fans of darker fairy tales and the author herself. It is such a fun read that I could easily see myself rereading it in the future. Nettle & Bone is the second book I’ve read by author T. Kingfisher, the first being What Moves the Dead, and I’ve enjoyed both novels so much that I’ll definitely be looking forward to reading other works by the same author.


Book Review : Nettle & Bone - Blogging with Dragons

Posted April 12, 2022 in Book Reviews, Fantasy


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