Next up: “Sorrow’s Knot” by Erin Bow
This was actually a very rare impulse buy. I’m impulsive with library books, but when it comes to laying down cash-dollar-bucks I usually play it safe and buy sequels to books I already have, or books by authors I absolutely love. I don’t often buy books I’ve never heard of, straight up, like I did with this one. But oh man, was it worth it!
This book has a pseudo-North American setting, with the people based loosely on N.A. indigenous peoples. In this world, the dead do not rest easy and must be destroyed or defended against by magic. The particular form of magic in this book is thread and knot-based. Women who can weave and tie these knots are called binders, and they are responsible for defending their small villages against the dead.
Otter’s mother Willow is a powerful binder, but her ability is too great and begins to tear her apart from the inside. Otter must take over her mother’s duties as binder, though the responsibility is great and a terrible threat looms over their village. Something is wrong with the knots, and one of the most terrible dead spirits, a White Hand, stalks the village.
Otter and her friends Kestrel and Cricket must solve the mystery of what’s wrong with the knots, the rotting rope, before the dead consume everything.
Any book basing itself on minorities runs the risk of turning exploitative or appropriative. “Sorrow’s Knot”, I think, does a good job of avoiding that. Though based on North American indigenous people, the society in the book is at once it’s own thing and doesn’t fall for the usual subversions of native peoples seen in other fantasy novels.
The book is kind of a quiet, creeping sort of book that maybe takes some time to get into, but it is so very worth it. The friendship between Otter, Kestrel, and Cricket is delightful to read, and the horror of the dead spirits is visceral. They are creepy. With the book’s title, it’s not surprising that there is a fair measure of tragedy in the story. It’s true that it’s not a particularly uplifting novel, but it is a skillful bit of storytelling.
I think my biggest criticism of the book is the sudden addition of a love interest near the end. It happened so quickly that it just seemed contrived. Though, honestly, this flaw is overshadowed by the story and the revelations that come at the conclusion of the book.