It’s my first read from T. Kingfisher and I think I’ll be reading more from her in the future. If you’re a fan of unconventional stories like The Princess Bride or Shrek, then I highly recommend this one.
After years of seeing her sisters suffer at the hands of an abusive prince, Marra—the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter—has finally realized that no one is coming to their rescue. No one, except for Marra herself.
Seeking help from a powerful gravewitch, Marra is offered the tools to kill a prince—if she can complete three impossible tasks. But, as is the way in tales of princes, witches, and daughters, the impossible is only the beginning.
On her quest, Marra is joined by the gravewitch, a reluctant fairy godmother, a strapping former knight, and a chicken possessed by a demon. Together, the five of them intend to be the hand that closes around the throat of the prince and frees Marra’s family and their kingdom from its tyrannous ruler at last.
This is my kind of fairy tale. It’s a little bit dark, a lot bit hopeful, and features an interesting group of misfits that all work together to storm the castle.
The story sets off running as we follow Marra, our heroine, around the banished lands in search of bones. What does she needs the bones for? Well, she needs them to resurrect a dog. Yes, she’s making a dog out of bones. It’s the first task of three that she’s willing to do in order to garner the help of a gravewitch. If she’s able to get the help of the witch, then she can begin her journey to saving her sister.
The beginning jumps between what Marra accomplishes for the witch and what’s already happened. Marra is the third princess from a super small country. Her older sister is married to the prince of the Northern Kingdom and deeply abused by him. While Marra is a princess, she’s been spending the last half of her life in a convent in the Southern Kingdom waiting out her fate. But after seeing the state of her sister and seeing that no one is willing to help her, she’s taken it upon herself to try and save her from a cruel husband and a life of pain.
As Marra completes the impossible tasks for the gravewitch, they head off with a demon-possessed chicken and come across a disgraced knight who can’t go home, and a fairy godmother who’s only good at casting curses on children. Together, they plan on storming the castle, saving the queen, and breaking whatever spell that lives on the land and keeps the cruel prince’s family in power.
Most of the story is the journey to the castle. Marra comes across the different characters of her group as she gets closer to her sister’s new kingdom and you see a glimpse of this world through their journey. The world building was exquisite. I was worried that some things would be sacrificed because of the length of the book, but there was no exceptions for world building. You can really imagine this place with strange monsters and weird magic all throughout it. It felt like a real place you can visit and while this wasn’t the highest of high fantasy novels, it was nice to escape from reality for a little while. Dogs made from bones and monsters who can play a song to dance your teeth out of your mouth, it was such a wild ride and I found myself enjoying every minute of it.
It’s a lot of fun following Marra and the group through their world in hopes of saving Marra’s sister before it’s too late. Each character is so inspired and hold their own personality. I can imagine the faces they made and the language that they use feels spot on with their personality. I even liked that the chicken had a personality. The fun part is that they were so flawed; as flawed as Marra herself. The gravewitch was just a snarky old lady who takes care of her demon-possessed chicken. The disgraced knight was looking for something to fight for after being banished from his own kingdom. The fairy godmother who can only do bad, but wants to be good. They all had flaws, but I loved seeing them be more than that throughout the story.
It was interesting to watch Marra grow so much from the character she starts with to the character she ends up. At first, she’s timid. She’s spent most of her life in a convent embroidering tapestries and helping birth babies. Then, she goes off to save her sister without a clue where to start and fosters help along the way. Nothing comes easy to her and she does fail a few times, but I love that she’s not willing to quit especially since her sister’s life is on the line. I feel like the strength of the people she collects as she’s journeying to the capital really lend to help pull her from her own shell and become the stronger person she is. At the end, she knows who she is. She knows what she wants. And she’s done playing puppet to a family who only see her as a bargaining chip.
Of course, it also deals with some bigger themes of domestic abuse and violence. Hearing Marra’s sister dealing with the pain her husband doles out and the lack of help from the people around her, I really felt for Marra and her situation. It would hurt me to see my sister in such pain and going to such destructible lengths to avoid it. I definitely would leave my life as a nun to help her even if I didn’t even know how to help her.
Quite a fun story and definitely the kind I love finding myself dreaming about. I may not want to get in the way of that chicken, but I will definitely read more from T. Kingfisher.