Saturday, 18 January 2014

Review: Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow

Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow is a fantastic Canadian YA novel. It is as beautifully written as the beautiful overarching metaphor of weaving/creating. This is a fantasy YA story for readers ages 12 & up.

Summary: 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?
Along with the metaphor of weaving/creating/protecting, the art of storytelling also has great power and influence. I loved that the book contains two powerful metaphors. The power of a good storyteller, the power of words, the power of stories all have great effect on the world. This is a timeless idea and with the supernatural element, we see the power of stories intensified. A truth that the reader can see developed throughout the book.
Spirits and magic play a large role in this book, and the heroes are underdogs, fated to bring peace and balance to the world. Death is also prominent and threatens the characters with its violence and unpredictability. Ideas about the afterlife and the manifestation of spirits may upset parents/readers with strong religious values. However, the book doesn't push native (or any!) type of belief system. It's simply a fact of life; people die and their spirits linger and must be held at bay. No propaganda present. 
I enjoyed the beauty of the story, especially the writing. However, to be honest, I had difficulty getting invested in the story as I often found myself getting bored and distracted. There wasn't enough character development or enough background or explanation about this supernatural world to appease me. I also think it would have been better as a darker story; more detail, more violence in the supernatural area, more mystery, and more suspense. Then again, this book reads very "literary." It's certainly not teen-trash or a fluffy read, that's for sure!

Lastly, I dislike having a generalized evil to oppose the heroes. The antagonists are uneasy spirits and their touch is poison to a living person; a sign of doom. The other great evil is human error. I wanted someone to blame, to fear; the handprint of a spirit on a living person was too reminiscent of Treasure Island's black spot. Sorry-- this was a yawn moment for me. 
Overall, after reading this book, I can see why Sorrow's Knot is an award-winning book and I do recommend it. It is a fabulous piece of Canadian YA fiction. The content didn't interest me much, but the writing is wonderful, the plot is deep and filled with the supernatural. 
3 stars. 

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