Release date: 7th March 2011
Genre: Fantasy / YA
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Chicken House
Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep magic. As the wood-carver's daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden talismans are so fine that some even call her "witch-blade": a dangerous nickname in a country where witches are hunted and burned in the square. For Kate and her village have fallen on hard times. Kate's father has died, leaving her alone in the world. And a mysterious fog now covers the countryside, ruining crops and spreading fear of hunger and sickness. The towns people are looking for someone to blame, and their eyes have fallen on Kate.
Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: In exchange for her shadow, he'll give Kate the means to escape the angry town, and what's more, he'll grant her heart's wish. It's a chance for her to start over, to find a home, a family, a place to belong. But Kate soon realizes she can't live shadowless forever --and that Linay's designs are darker than she ever dreamed.
Wood Angel, previously titled Plain Kate, tells the story of a young girl simply trying to belong and live a good life, but superstitions and someone's bad intentions thwart her simple dream.
Kate Carver, known mostly as Plain Kate, lives in a small village in the (quite probably) Russian countryside. As a wood-carver's only beloved child, she was taught to carve from her early childhood and that was an easy task for her father, as Kate is a prodigious carver. After her father's death, she loses everything, so she has to rely on the goodness of the villagers to survive. She sleeps in the drawers of her father's former stall and spends her days in the company of her cat Taggle, earning money with carving. Some villagers accept her, but most are suspicious of her amazing talent, believing her to be a witch. When bad things begin to happen in and around the village, Kate is blamed and, eager to escape and live a normal life elsewhere, she makes a dangerous deal with a real witch, Linay. She gives him her shadow in return for her heart's wish, but she doesn't know that by giving up her shadow, she committed herself to danger and darkness, as Linay's intentions are far from noble.
The characters in the novel are, simply put, great. Kate is a brave, independent young girl who has had to fend for herself almost her entire life. She was brought up by herself and by the goodwill of some good, unprejudiced villagers. She is a master carver, which is both her talent and her curse. All Kate wants is to carve and to truly belong somewhere. When it seems she will finally get her wish, her decision to give up her shadow comes back to haunt her and those around her. In the story, Kate meets a group of Roamers, who are like Gypsies. Some interesting characters can be found among the Roamers, and they are bound to a tragic story that involves Kate as well. Kate also befriends a girl close to her age, Drina, who has her own fears and secrets to keep. The two girls team up to help Kate, but their plan backfires tragically and their friendship is put to a severe test.
As for Linay, the villain of the book, he is quite an intriguing character. He is a villain, but also an anti-hero, in the sense that he does all the wrong things to bring about justice. His motivations are sad and his means to make things right very scary and dark. His relationship with Kate is intriguing. They have a strange hate-friendship bond that intrigued me. I must also mention Taggle, Kate's very special cat. This cat is a central character in the book, with his very own, curious personality and I must say that he was incredibly fun to read about. It would be wonderful to own a cat like Taggle.
The setting of the story is truly wonderful. I am almost sure that the setting is Russian, as Russian words are mentioned, and references are made to the mythology. The atmosphere is very magical, but magic is a part of that world, not something that is separate, which makes the magic very natural, albeit undesired by most people that appear in the novel. The mythology is well incorporated into the story and the author put her own, interesting and dark spin on it. All these elements make this story an intriguing fairy-tale for adults. The language is beautiful and quite lyrical; the words flow smoothly.
The suspense in the story does not lie in a string of intense events following each other, but in the atmosphere that the author creates. To me, it was all in the melancholy, Russian, mysterious setting and in the characters' perception of things, which, for me, is the best kind of suspense – atmospheric suspense, as I like to call it.
The ending was quite sad and perhaps a tad (too) tragic, but after some thinking, it's actually perfect. I can't imagine a better way for the matters in the book to resolve. Most importantly, the story does end on a positive note and there is definitely a strong glimmer of hope.
All in all, this was a delightful read that had quite a few melancholy and dark moments, but those are the components of a typical Slavic fairy-tale. This is a unique fairy-tale for adults, and a story about acceptance and courage.
Becky says: Fantastic review Irena. I love how passionate you are about this book. I’m so glad I sent you this one. It seems that you thoroughly enjoyed it. I am very intrigued by the villain. I do love anti-heroes. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. Intriguing that Wood Angel had some traditional fairy-tale aspects.
Both out thanks to Chicken House for sending the book to review.