In the world of SORROW’S KNOT, the dead do not rest easy. Every patch of shadow might be home to something hungry, something deadly. Most of the people of this world live on the sunlit, treeless prairies. But a few carve out an uneasy living in the forest towns, keeping the dead at bay with wards made from magically knotted cords. The women who tie these knots are called binders. And Otter’s mother, Willow, is one of the greatest binders her people have ever known.
But Willow does not wish for her daughter to lead the lonely, heavy life of a binder, so she chooses another as her apprentice. Otter is devastated by this choice, and what’s more, it leaves her untrained when the village falls under attack. In a moment of desperation, Otter casts her first ward, and the results are disastrous. But now Otter may be her people’s only hope against the shadows that threaten them. Will the challenge be too great for her? Or will she find a way to put the dead to rest once and for all?
I am on a YA fantasy kick. After being totally disappointed by The Winner’s Curse (which I would argue is not fantasy at all), I was ready for something with magic as one of the main plots. Give me all the magic. I chose this one also because there is no mention of a love interest in the summary, only a girl and her mother. I figured this was a relationship I’d like to explore, and the opening chapter really caught me. I love how Bow uses the language in this one, how the descriptions space out the dialogue, how the words seem to weave with the yarn Otter uses to cast her knots. Bow throws you right into the story, and we spend time catching up, learning about rangers and knots and the dead, but it’s not overwhelming, in my opinion. Books like this take some getting used to, sure, but they’re out there and they’re great (like Weather Witch by Shannon Delany or Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox). The forest village, or pinch, of Westmost is comprised almost entirely of women, and they do not marry. Otter is startled by the idea of humans “pairing like wolves,” and so there are no real gender roles. Women are the cooks, the healers, the guards, the soldiers. This is a woman’s stronghold. When they wish to have a child, they usually choose a man from a band of wandering traders, and there is no expectation of help from him. There are very few men in Otter’s pinch, but one is her friend Cricket, being taught the secrets of storytelling, something forbidden a boy. There is another Kestrel in this book, but she is strong and brave and secondary, not at all like the Kestrel of the last review.
Otter’s mother, the holder of a great deal of power as Westmost’s binder, is mad. Or something like it. Her power resembles that of the dead, and she has begun calling them back instead of binding them to death. Otter is rejected by her mother, which rocks Otter’s world, though Willow claims it is for Otter’s own protection. When a new binder comes to town, poor Otter, the most likable protagonist in a long time, is shaken again as Willow accepts Fawn as her second. Otter drifts along as her friends join their cords, the professions they’ll hold for life. Otter has no cord and no woman’s belt. The sympathy I felt for Otter here was overwhelming, because she was so cradled in the knowledge of her mother’s love and her future as a binder, and it was all taken away in a second. And then, something worse happens and Otter is alone, save her friends. Tragedies keep occurring. This book is beautifully written, but it’s also heartbreaking. It can be fun, but it will also make you cry. I cried like six times while reading this one, and I regret nothing, because I am Angst Queen, but also because Bow knows how to weave a sad tale and make it shine. Make it stick with you. That’s what Otter’s story did for me.
The sorrow, as the title suggests, is palpable and ever-present, and this is a book guaranteed to wrench your heart. I am really excited to add Erin Bow to my list of authors I want to read all of, and I’ll be here for CHILDREN OF PEACE when it comes out in 2016.