It’s hard not to love a classic fairy tale, whether it’s the cheery Disney versions, or the twisted Grimm Brothers. Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher is a fairy tale for older audiences that feels like a classic epic journey with a bit of a twist that’s fun to follow along with.
The premise itself is the first hint that this will not be your typical fairy tale cast. A prince is not looking for his princess, but the princess does want to kill the prince and save her sister. Along the way we meet a gravewitch, a woman who deals with the dead. From the very first page, the gravewitch is the driving force introducing us into this fantastical world. She gives princess Marra impossible acts, including weaving a cloak with nettle thread and building a dog made of bone. Next we meet Fenris, a former soldier who finds himself working as a laborer in the goblin market, one of the few humans among strange magic such as glamor sellers and tooth dancers (yes, you read that right.) Last but not least there’s Agnes, a fairy godmother who is a little too good to use her strongest power; curses. And of course, there’s the animal sidekicks: a skeleton dog and a demon chicken (and another chick later on.)
Agnes and the gravewitch work like foils, showing us different kinds of magic in the world of the novel similarly to how Marra and Fenris could be seen as foils. Marra has no idea what she’s doing, and little world experience, but has this large goal to kill the prince and save her sister from his wrath and abuse. Fenris has no motivation to help except his simply having been asked to help, but he has the skills the group might need to pull it off, who, while not exactly trying to die, has no problem dying if it serves the goal in the end. The group is not your typical fairy tale heroes, but they compliment each other. They are all equally clueless in how to actually go about their grand plans, but nevertheless they continue on and figuring it out along the way.
As said above, the world of Nettle & Bone is magical from the start, throwing the reader right into its unique setting. The gravewitch’s introduction feels like an homage to Baba Yaga, but without the cannibalism and moving house, and her impossible tasks feel straight out of classic storytelling. We briefly see these parts of the world that make the reader interested in the scenery as much as the characters, such as the blight lands and the goblin market. There is no exposition given to fill in the blanks on these parts of the setting, like how they came to be or exactly what makes the blight lands such a dangerous place to be, it is simply shown to us as we explore it with Marra and company. While more hints to the larger world than a significant part of the setting, these locations still set the scene.
T. Kingfisher tells a unique take with Nettle & Bone that is a balance of original story and fairy tale retelling with a cast of characters you wouldn’t usually expect to see together on this adventure, something even the characters themselves take notice of in moments of humor. Nettle & Bone is a must-read for fans of magic with a touch of a dark side.
Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher is out now from Tor Books and available for purchase at your local independent bookstore or wherever fine books are sold.