Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Me on Sorrow's Knot

Title: Sorrow's Knot
Author: Erin Bow
Release Date: October 1, 2013
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine (Scholastic imprint)

At the very edge of the world live the Shadowed People. And with them live the dead. There, in the village of Westmost, Otter is born to power. She is the proud daughter of Willow, the greatest binder of the dead in generations. It will be Otter's job someday to tie the knots of the ward, the only thing that keeps the living safe. Kestrel is in training to be a ranger, one of the brave women who venture into the forest to gather whatever the Shadowed People can't live without and to fight off whatever dark threat might slip through their ward's defenses. And Cricket wants to be a storyteller. Already he shows the knack, the ear, and already he knows a few dangerous secrets. But something is very wrong at the edge of the world. Willow's power seems to be turning inside out. The ward is in danger of falling. And lurking in the shadows, hungry, is a White Hand, the most dangerous of the dead, whose very touch means madness, and worse.

Sorrow's Knot is a beautifully crafted tale, haunting and eerie, filled with suspense, curiosity, and old magic. It's the story of a small village and one girl's ability to bind those who have moved on. This is a tale of life and death, of the magic that keeps the living safe and the dead from causing harm. This is about the dead coming back in dangerous and unpredictable ways. Otter knows she has power in her blood, she always wanted to be a binder, but the events that follow happen in a way she did not expect, and so she must find a way to save everyone she cares about from the White Hand.

Otter isn't a take-charge sort of character; those kinds of actions are left to Kestrel. Otter has her strengths, she doesn't just sit there and react, but she's more of an observer. Otter watches and only takes action when she chooses, when she knows deep down in her soul that something must be done. The hidden gem of this book is the friendship she has with Kestrel. A friendship based on affection and companionship without malice or secrets. An honest friendship. My heart was happy every time Otter was with Kestrel and Cricket. The friendship between the three of them is one I wish appeared more often in YA.

I found the magic of the binding, the knots, the wards to keep the dead at bay, to be so imaginative. It sounds so simple, but when put into practice in the book it's so complicated, so intricate. And Otter's village, as well. This small town of mostly women is filled with strength, with purpose and power in the blood that flows through them. Each one of them has a purpose, to heal, to protect, to share, to bind.

As this story unfolds, secrets from the past are revealed. There was a mistake made in the past that still haunts the world. Sometimes we keep secrets from others to keep them safe, but nothing stays secret for long. Sometimes we refuse to make a difficult choice, but running won't stop it from coming after you. The times we don't want to let go because it's too painful? They will always return, and they will come back to hurt those who remain in the future. I found that a large part of this book is knowing that you have to make that choice, that you have to let go, no matter how painful or heart-breaking, and that the choices we make in order to set things right are the most painful of all.

This is such a Canadian story. The voice is so crisp and clear, and the world is so familiar yet unlike anything I know. The people who inhabit this world are a people who will push on and persevere through hardship and struggle, slowly carving out a place for themselves and their families so they can live in peace. It's rather reminiscent of the tales, myths, and customs of the First Nations people, perhaps before the Europeans came, or perhaps after, in a distant future. There is a closeness to nature here, a simplicity to their lives that would not otherwise be there if modern technology was present. It's a story of the land itself, of a community of tradition and ritual that values storytelling, and of a young girl trying to find her place, trying to understand the world, and trying to right a wrong that happened before the moons were named.

(I received a finished copy of this title to review from Scholastic Canada. For those in the US, the release date is October 29, 2013.)

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