Review: Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow

Sorrow's KnotTitle: Sorrow’s Knot

Author: Erin Bow

Genre: YA, Fantasy

Publication Date: October 29, 2013 (Arthur A. Levine Books)

Source: ARC I received in a swap

Jacket Copy: In the world of Sorrow’s Knot, the dead do not rest easy. Every patch of shadow might be home to something hungry and nearly invisible, something deadly. The dead can only be repelled or destroyed with magically knotted cords and yarns. The women who tie these knots are called binders.

Otter is the daughter of Willow, a binder of great power. She’s a proud and privileged girl who takes it for granted that she will be a binder some day herself. But when Willow’s power begins to turn inward and tear her apart, Otter finds herself trapped with a responsibility she’s not ready for, and a power she no longer wants.

3/5 stars – Lyrical and uniquely woven but not always grabbing

For years, a copy of Plain Kate sat patiently on the shelf in my high school library and yet I never checked it out. The rave reviews were nearly everywhere in the blogosphere, but it took me until my last year and a half of high school to utilize our library. When I walked by it, I either said “I’ll do it later” or found too many other books I wanted to read more. I still want to read it, but my experience with Sorrow’s Knot makes me a little more hesitant. Though it’s beautifully written and very unlike other YA fantasy novels, the way the prose has to carry most of the story’s burden makes me worry Bow simply might not be a writer for me.

Its strongest selling point is how it’s so unapologetically female-centric. The residents of Westmost are almost all women and girls; the men of the village are usually either traders who are only there temporarily or boys born there who most likely end up leaving when they’re older. The women hold the power and it’s simply how it is. Most fantasy is European-based and usually has someone questioning women in power or oppressing women, so it’s unbelievably refreshing to see something different.

The worldbuilding is just as interesting. Bow paints a picture of a world heavily reminiscent of North American/Native American culture, though the Shadowed People aren’t meant to represent or parallel any particular culture. It’s a bit difficult to perceive some of the cords and knots they make while binding, but that didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying Otter’s world, trials, and enemies. Those white hands on the cover aren’t there for nothing; they’re among the most terrifying creatures the novel has to offer.

Bow writes like the tales she’s spinning are fairy tales and it’s absolutely gorgeous. For the first one-hundred pages, I was spellbound. After that, the magic wore off–but by no fault of the author. This has happened once before with Ash by Malinda Lo. Though I love fairy tale-esque writing as much as the next person, it’s best for me in short stories and novellas, not 200-page or 300-page or longer novels.

More troubling, it felt like the prose was forced to carry most of burden. The characters weren’t quite strong enough because they were so entangled in the prose and that is why I haven’t discussed the characters; there were brief moments of plotty happenings, but they resolved themselves quickly. Reading a story solely on the basic of beautiful prose isn’t doesn’t work for me.

I got to about page 200–over halfway through the novel–and yet it still felt like such an uphill battle to read more because it seemed their story turned into a journey and the prose really was all that drove the story forward. That kind of stress isn’t good for my already-in-trouble reading habits (I haven’t finished a single book since I started this about ten days ago due to reader apathy and outside factors), so I decided to put it down.

I absolutely recommend it to people who loved Ash‘s storytelling or Bow’s other novel because I hear it is the same, but if gorgeous writing can only take you so far, you might want to be wary of Sorrow’s Knot or take it slowly. Very slowly.



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