Hardcover, 368 pages
Expected publication: October 29th 2013 by Arthur A. Levine Books
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?
Before we begin any sort of review on this novel, let me just say I’m a shameless Erin Bow fangirl. I read and loved Plain Kate which is an amazing book and one you need to read if you haven’t done so already.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s move on to Sorrow’s Knot. And I really don’t know where to start talking about this book. Honestly, I don’t. Okay, I can do this.
Sorrow’s Knot is brilliantly Canadian without being explicit about it. The novel tells a story; by that I mean I felt as though I was sitting around a fire, hearing about Otter, Cricket and Kestrel. There is something hypnotic about the narrative tone – the short and pithy sentences manage to be evocative despite their length. The cadence of the prose. There is a quiet intensity in the small, soft moments. The friendship is so beautifully expressed between Cricket and Otter, and Otter and Kestrel. While Cricket and Otter are good friends, I think I most empathized with the friendship between Kestrel and Otter. Theirs is an honest friendship, not sugar-coated and falsely sunny. They trust each other to do the things they would not be able to do and there’s beauty in that.
Though the characters and their lifestyles and portrayals are suggestive of First Nations people, Bow avoids mention of any specific tradition or characteristic otherwise identifiable to a certain tribe or people and thus avoids any instances of cultural appropriation. A lot of time is devoted in making the Westmost people feel authentic in their rituals and traditions and I appreciate the research that must have been done to make it so. The fictional Westmost people are ruled by matriarchy and I love how this affects gender constructions. The novel explores themes of death and letting go in such a poignant and beautiful manner that even though your heart is breaking, you cannot help but read on.
Another aspect of the novel that I enjoyed very much is the distinction between the two girls. Kestrel is the character a YA novel would usually follow. She is the epitome of the strong heroine; the Katniss, of sorts. Otter, on the other hand, though not physically strong has strength of a different kind. It is interesting to have a nonconventional heroine for once. The romances in this novel are sweet and sad and I liked how cleverly the girls discuss physical relationships without shying away from it.
Sorrow’s Knot does not deal with the destruction of the world on a grand scale. It concerns itself with the lives of one particular group of people and goes deep into their mythology, their prejudices and their resistance to change. Readers who are more familiar with scenarios where the fate of the world rests upon the protagonists’ overly burdened shoulders may find themselves discomfited for a while. However, the realization that Otter’s world, though not very big, is just as important comes quick and with that realization, the reader will be swept away by the story of the binders and their knots.
The tension in the novel is exquisitely managed and readers’ emotions will react as though they are the strings in a finely strung violin. The tension continues to rise until you are almost despairing and then eases only to rise again. In other words, Erin Bow plays with your emotions. A lot. And you willingly read on, almost breathless with the anticipation, because you have to see Otter’s story to the end.
And what an end it is. You guys, I didn’t think I could love Sorrow’s Knot more than Plain Kate but I do. Definitely, strongly, recommended.