I’ve been such a fan of T Kingfisher for so long, and of her fairy tale work in particular, so Nettle and Bone, which subverts a lot of fairy tale tropes, has been one of my most anticipated books since I first heard about it – and it more than lived up to my excitement for it!
Book: Nettle and Bone by T Kingfisher
Publication date: 26th April 2022
Ownership: Proof and finished copy sent free of charge by Titan Books. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: domestic/spousal abuse, both mental and physical; necromancy, the undead, and desecration of graves and bones; miscarriage and child loss; violence, injury and death; forcible tooth removal.
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.
Gosh, I loved this book. I mean, I knew I was going to, because as I say I’m a really big fan of the author, but this is one of my favourites yet. Nettle and Bone perfectly captures everything I love about T Kingfisher’s writing: it’s smart, witty, and full of the kinds of well-rounded, capable characters I love, and somehow it manages to be cynical and hopeful at the same time. I love how she manages to mix darkness and warmth – please pay attention to the content warnings here, as the themes of spousal abuse and child loss in particular are quite strong, but don’t think this is a bleak or hopeless tale, because it still manages to be incredibly human and kind.
Nettle and Bone isn’t so much a fairy tale as an original story that pulls strands and themes from fairy tales in general and weaves them into something new. You have the fairy godmothers, the three impossible tasks, the animal companions and so on, but everything is a half-twist to the left. For me, who’s been completely obsessed with the bones of fairy tales for years, this was like catnip, spotting all the different threads in the cloth, but I think it would absolutely work if you didn’t have that background knowledge, because it’s a very classic quest (in some ways) and a very inventive world. It’s familiar and not at the same time. There’s so much here that’s delightful, creepy, or both at once!
This story is about the power of people who are determined to make the world better; they’re flawed, but they’re trying. There’s some fantastic examination of privilege, and how it isn’t always black and white that the people with privilege are the ones with power – it’s tricky to explain without getting into too much detail, but I loved how Marra’s role as princess is treated as being simultaneously a protection and a burden, without ever getting into that cliched fantasy princess ‘woe is me’ thing. Marra is thirty, and feels it. She’s naive in some ways and mature in others, and while she very much has the bones of a Kingfisher heroine (practical, smart, sarcastic) she feels really fresh and interesting because of her unique situation. The other characters I want to keep secret from you, because you should really meet them on-page first, but there wasn’t a single one who wasn’t fascinating. There’s a smidgen of romance, and a lot of character growth for everyone; it almost sneaks up on you how much you’ve fallen in love with all of them!
I feel like I’m being irritatingly cagey, but that’s because this is a short book (only 330 pages in hardback!) and each part of it builds on what comes before in beautiful ways that it would be a shame to talk about out of context. At the start of the book, you might be confused by the hopping around in the timelines, but just persevere because everything becomes clear very quickly, and the slightly odd structure ends up lending a real richness and depth to Marra’s character. So don’t spoil yourself before you go in – just let the magic of the story sweep you along.
If you’re a fan of T Kingfisher, you absolutely need this book, and if you aren’t yet, this would be a great place to start (or with one of my other two favourites, Bryony and Roses or Swordheart). Five out of five cats!