Hugo Award winner T. Kingfisher’s Nettle & Bone is a dark, feminist fantasy that follows an unlikely heroine as she takes matters into her own hands to free her sister and other women from a cyclical system of abuse.
Princess Marra is shy and seemingly forgettable, content with being sent to a convent rather than married off for political gain. But when she learns of the death of her oldest sister, Damia, most likely at the hands of her husband, Prince Vorling, Marra worries that her other sister, Kania, will suffer the same fate. She’s destined to be Vorling’s second wife, after all.
Embarking on a quest to save what remains of her family, Marra turns to the dust-wife, a necromancer whose familiar is a demon-possessed chicken. The dust-wife tasks Marra with building a dog of bones, sewing a cloak of nettles and capturing moonlight in a jar. As Marra attempts to accomplish the impossible, she slowly assembles a team worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster montage. First, there’s Bonedog, whose creation occurs in the first chapter, an instantly gripping flash-forward to Marra midquest. Then there’s Agnes, Marra’s neurotic fairy godmother whose abilities are limited to granting good health. Rounding out the group is Fenris, a diplomatic knight who seems to have a bit of a death wish.
Fans of Kingfisher’s Saint of Steel trilogy will recognize her trademark blend of bleak world building and an affable cast of underdog characters. Marra’s evolution is an inspiration. She becomes a more confident version of herself as she works to save her sister, and then expands her mission once she realizes that if her vengeance remains focused on just Prince Vorling, it will leave many more women still in danger. But while Nettle & Bone is undeniably dark and sinister at times, Kingfisher balances the horror with well-placed levity. Any road trip is instantly made better by a demonic chicken, and who wouldn’t love a curious, energetic dog to tag along, even if he is made of bones? The more comedic characters allow readers to find comfort amid the larger, darker scope of the novel, bright spots in a world that can often feel hopeless.
Kingfisher is an inventive fantasy powerhouse, and Nettle & Bone represents the burgeoning “hopepunk” ethos at its finest, with its winsome characters and focus on their fight to make the world a better place.