This isn’t a story about how the princess marries the prince, it’s about how she kills him..
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.
Thank you NetGalley and Titan Books for the free copy in exchange for an honest review.
This was my first T. Kingfisher book and I absolutely devoured it! I read it while home sick with dreaded Covid and it was the perfect balm. Somehow it managed to be both cosy and creepy at the same time, and kept me on my toes at every turn. Nettle and Bone follows Marra, the third-born princess of a small harbour kingdom, on her quest to free her older sister from her marriage to a cruel prince. Marra is quite socially and politically inept, and was sent to a convent when she was young so that she couldn’t have children before her sister and compromise the prince’s claims to their small kingdom. She is quite relieved to be out of the game, and spends many years content with her manual labour and simple existence, until a visit to her sister reveals the abuse going on behind closed doors.
In despair she seeks out a dust-wife, the keeper of the dead, to find some way to kill the prince and save her sister. The dust-wife sets her three impossible tasks before she will agree to help, and the book opens as Marra is undertaking the second one: making a dog out of bone. She is in the blistered lands, cursed and arid, and is winding sharp wire around dog bones in the hopes it will come back to life. It is a dismal setting and a very effective opening, especially because the bone dog (called Bonedog) is a great addition to the story!
Once the dust-wife reluctantly agrees to help, the quest begins and the two of them set off with the bone dog and a chicken possessed by a demon. Along the way they stop at a goblin market, which was one of my favourite scenes, and they rescue Fenris, a former knight from his servitude to the fey. And, for good measure, they seek out Marra’s old godmother. The plot itself, once you boil it down, isn’t incredibly substantial, and the middle of this story could be described as ‘people walking places’ but what makes it so readable is the ensemble of people that are doing the walking.
Marra is a good character, and very relatable as being quite ordinary in a world full of extraordinary, and she is the perfect anchor for all the weirdness going on around her. The dust-wife is incredible, with her grumpiness, matter-of-fact manner, and her demon chicken. She reminded me, at times, of Gandalf but with a little more kick (sorry Gandalf). Once the godmother joined the group, the two of them bounced off of each other marvellously; to be honest, the dialogue and character dynamics were the focus, for me, and the plot simply a device to make it all more interesting. The one gripe I have about the book is that I kept forgetting Marra is a woman in her 30s, perhaps because she still has the innocence that comes with living in a convent for most of her life, but she just read like a teenage girl to me…
But overall, I had a wonderful time with my first T. Kingfisher book, and shall certainly be reading more. She certainly succeeded in creating something both cosy and spooky, with a wonderful fairy tale feel, and settings such as the goblin market, blistering lands full of roaming cannibals, and the haunted tombs of dead kings. Oh, and one must not forget the demon-possessed chicken!
Published: 26th April 2022 by Titan Books
Narration style: third person, past tense
Format read: eARC
Content Warnings: abuse, miscarriage, child death, blood