I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor Books (April 26, 2022)
Length: 256 pages
If T. Kingfisher (AKA Ursula Vernon) wasn’t already becoming one of my favorite authors, Nettle & Bone just sealed the deal. Every time I pick up her books, I look forward to being whisked away to another one of her exquisitely imagined fantasy worlds and meeting the charming characters. Needless to say, this one did not disappoint.
In Nettle & Bone, we follow protagonist Marra who is the youngest daughter of the Queen of Harbor Kingdom. Her older sister Kania was married off to Prince Vorling of the Northern Kingdom in a political alliance, and by all accounts it is not going well. Marra knows that the prince is abusing her sister, and that Kania is treated as little more than a brood mare to give him the male heir he needs. Every time she miscarries or gives birth to a daughter, he becomes even more violently cruel and unstable. Horrified, Marra can only take steps to avoid the same fate, agreeing to join a convent so she will be safe from Vorling in case his eyes turn towards her, and also so she can bide her time.
For you see, Marra is carefully hatching a plan to rescue Kania, but that path will not be easy. First, Marra will need to gather some resources and allies, and she’ll also require further training in the magical arts. As soon as she is able to, Marra makes the journey to seek out the aid of a dust=wife, someone who can instruct her on how to acquire rare enchanted materials and to craft powerful items. Still, even that is only the beginning. In order to save Kania, Marra must also figure out a way to get Vorling out the picture—for good.
The author has so many talents, it’s hard to know where to begin with this review! But since her protagonists are always a highlight, I suppose it only makes sense to start with Marra. When Nettle & Bone begins, we are already in the middle of her quest, but through the brilliant and creative use of flashbacks, readers are quickly caught up with her backstory. So much about her personality, from her precociousness to her immense courage, could be gleaned from her experiences in the past, and I do so love character development like this that feels natural and authentic. Marra’s aversion to anything to do with marriage and childbirth is also understandable, given her early exposure to Kania’s abuse at the hands of her husband and the deep-rooted fear that all relationships inevitably lead to this, but getting glimpses of our protagonist as a young girl also helped solidify what we know of her as a caring person with a heart of gold who is also fiercely loyal to her family.
That said, this kind-hearted young woman also has a ruthless, vengeful side. She’s patient, calculating, and will go to great lengths to do what’s right, especially where her older sister is concerned. This duality is also reflected in the tone of the story, which at once possesses the darkness of a more mature epic fantasy (featuring abuse, murder, etc.) juxtaposed with the whimsy of a fairy tale, with dialogue and themes that occasionally skew more towards Young Adult. The effect was not unpleasant, and made Nettle & Bone a quick read—not too heavy, not too light.
Or course, the fast-moving, entertaining plot had a lot to do with this, and Kingfisher also flexes her creativity, wowing me with some of the best, most imaginative ideas I’ve ever seen from any of her novels. Particularly memorable to me was Bonedog, who was delightful and endearing despite his lack of flesh. The last scene of the book had me practically in tears, which is really saying something—only the most emotionally well-written and multilayered stories have ever managed that, and there was no doubt I cared deeply about Marra, the outcome of her quest, as well as what happened to those around her. In the end, there was even a sweet slow-burn romance to soften our protagonist’s long-held views on relationships, and though she may not have been looking for a lover, the chemistry between Marra and Fenris was undeniably there, and you can bet I was rooting for them all the way.
Bottom line, Nettle & Bone was most certainly a book that made me feel invested in it with all my heart. I loved everything about it, from the magical, riveting plot to the astoundingly imaginative world that practically leapt off the page. And most of all, I adored Marra, who was genuine, multi-dimensional, and inspiring—a T. Kingfisher protagonist through and through. As the author continues to make waves in the SFF world and gain recognition for her incredible work, I can only cheer because all the praise is well-deserved.