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Literature / Plain Kate

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"A long time ago, in a market town by a looping river, there lived an orphan girl called Plain Kate."

Plain Kate is a highly-acclaimed 2010 Fantasy novel by Erin Bow, inspired by Russian folklore.

The story begins in the town of Samilae, where Plain Kate lives with her father, Piotr, a master woodcarver. Plain Kate learns to carve from an early age, and her skill with a knife leads the townspeople to accuse her of witchcraft. After her father dies in a bout of witch's fever, Plain Kate struggles to survive on the streets of Samilae, accompanied by Taggle, her cat whom she has raised since he was a kitten. While life is far from easy, Plain Kate gets by—until a meeting with an albino witch and granter of wishes leads to the loss of her home and shadow. Alone save for Taggle, who, due to the witch Linay's machinations, can now talk, Plain Kate strikes out with a tribe of Roamers (Gypsy analogues) to find a way to retrieve her shadow. But paranoia and distrust quickly amass against her, and Linay is much, much more than he seems.

Filled with soul and poetry, this highly-character driven novel will alternately break your heart and make you laugh. It is filled as much with love and hope as it is courage and honour.

This book contains examples of:

  • All of the Other Reindeer: Wherever Kate goes, she is spurned and cast away, for being an orphan and because they believe that she's a witch.
  • Animal Motifs: Plain Kate is associated with cats. Linay, the witch-white, is a starving wolf. His sister, Lenore, is represented by the fox.
  • And I Must Scream: The fate of Lenore. This serves as a major impetus for Linay.
  • Anti-Villain: Whether Linay is this or an Anti-Hero is up to debate.
  • Black Magic: Powered by shadows, blood, and death. Linay's signature style.
  • Burn the Witch!: The townspeople of Samilae and Lov are both very fond of this.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Kate's father.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: In spades.
  • Fairy Tale: Heavily inspired by Russian folktales, Plain Kate is something of a fairy tale in itself.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Although inspired by Russian folk tales, the setting is closer to (and described as by Word of God) a "Polish/Lithuanian frontier in the 16th century," complete with wandering gypsies, witches and curses.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Rusalkas suffer this.
  • Gypsy: The Roamers take in Plain Kate after she leaves Samilae. Her learning about their culture and slowly becoming accepted is a major plot point.
  • Happily Ever After: A variation: "And so they did, not always without trouble, but happily, and well, and for a long time thereafter."
  • Informed Flaw: Kate is considered plain, but the only described trait is her one blue, one brown eye.
  • Literal Genie: Kate is a bit dazed when she finds out that her wish to "not be alone" results in her cat gaining the power of speech.
  • Living Shadow: A key plot element. Shadows not only live, but are a witch's foremost source of magical power.
  • Loyal Animal Companion: Taggle may be arrogant and vain to an extreme (he is a cat, after all), his loyalty to Plain Kate, who raised him, is vital in more than one instance.
  • Mama Bear: Mother Daj seems to be this for all the Roamers.
  • Mark of the Supernatural: Plain Kate is described as having "one eye the colour of river mud and one eye the colour of the river." This contributes to the townspeople's misplaced belief that she is a witch.
  • Missing Mom: Plain Kate and Drina both. This is important.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted. Periods are associated with blood magic, which spooks the Roamers to no end.
  • Once Upon a Time: See the image caption.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: In the form of Lenore, the rusalka.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Taggle's sarcastic and condescending manner is Played for Laughs, which helps lighten the tone when it gets dark and bloody.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: At the very end.
    Something flashed through her, surprising her with a sting of tears. She thought it was bewilderment, anger, fear— before she recognized it: grief.
  • Talking Animal: Taggle. See also Loyal Animal Companion.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: After the murder of his sister Lenore by the people of Lov, Linay learns many dark secrets. Overlaps with Power Born of Madness.