Nettle & Bone


T. Kingfisher


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

October 7, 2022

et another fantasy novel with the word "Bone" in the title. As I mentioned in my review of The Bone Maker, Bone seems to currently be the favorite title word for fantasy novelists. This is not to imply that Nettle & Bone is a copy-cat novel. Kingfisher has written a unique novel in a well described fantasy world. There is magic and adventure aplenty, but this is nothing like a novelized version of a Dungeons and Dragons quest. (Not that there is anything wrong with novels structured like a D&D game. I suspect that the basic plot of The Black Tongued Thief began as a D&D game, and it is a thoroughly enjoyable read.)

The heroine of Nettle & Bone is Marra, the third daughter of the royal family in a small kingdom. Though the kingdom is small, it possesses a fantastic deep water port, which makes it a target for the great powers that lie to the north and south of it. (As far as I recall, Kingfisher never named any of the kingdoms in this novel). To forestall a devastating war, Marra's parents have married their eldest daughter, Damia, to Prince Vorling, the heir to the throne of the northern kingdom. Alas, Prince Vorling is a monster. Damia is returned to her homeland in a coffin just a year after her marriage. The second daughter, Kania is promptly married off Prince Vorling and Marra is sent to a convent. The unspoken plan is that Marra is Vorling's-bride-in-waiting should Kania also perish in the northern kingdom.

Kania needs to produce an heir for Prince Vorling. or else! Marra travels to the northern kingdom to attend the birth of Kania's first child - alas, it is a useless girl. In a moment when Kania is alone with Marra, she tells Marra that she must promise to never marry Prince Vorling. Marra is deeply disturbed by what she has discovered, and resolves to help her sister. Marra decides she must kill Prince Vorling. Marra leaves the convent and goes in search of a powerful magician, called a "dust-wife". Naturally, the dust-wife refuses to help unless Marra can complete three impossible tasks - she must build a dog of bones, she must sew a cloak of nettles, and she must capture moonlight in a jar.

Marra has no magical ability, just her wits, compassion and a relentless determination. The obstacles are daunting (how do you kill a powerful prince?) but Marra has resolved to save her sister, and so will move forward no matter what perils and setbacks she faces. The world that T. Kingfisher describes is dangerous and intriguing. There a haunted tombs. Curses and blessings from fairy godmothers. A chicken possessed by a demon. A dangerous goblin market populated with strange creatures with unusual items for sale, and they demand unusual payment.

I liked that Marra is so ordinary. Yes, she is technically a princess, but in reality she is a thirty year old nun who can embroider and weed gardens. Only her sister's peril has roused Marra from her life of obscurity. Eventually, Marra recruits some powerful allies to her cause due to the force of her personality. And off they go to confront Prince Vorling in his castle, even though he was blessed by the powerful godmother at his christening.

This is the third novel of Kingfisher's that I have read, and I have enjoyed them all. Luckily, I see that my library has a few more of her books available, so I will have to delve into them.