Plain Kate

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Plain Kate
The cover of Plain Kate
Author Erin Bow
Cover artist Juliana Kolesova
Lillie Howard (design)
Country United States
Language English
Genre Fantasy, Wood Carving, Witchcraft
Published Arthur A. Levine Books
Pages 311, 314 including Acknowledgments
ISBN 978-0-545-16664-5
Preceded by N/A

Plain Kate is a Fantasy novel by author Erin Bow, published in 2010 by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic.[1] The story, which draws from Russian folktales,[2] focuses on an orphan girl nicknamed Plain Kate who is blamed for witchcraft because of her ability to carve wood, and who must deal with a real witch and sell her shadow in order to stay alive.


Katerina "Kate" Svetlana is an orphan who lived in the small eastern European market town of Samilae. She was called "Plain Kate" because her father introduced her to a butcher as Katerina Svtelana "but I just call her plain Kate" (Plain Kate, Bow 1). Her mother died in childbirth and her father, a master woodcarver, took care of her until he died of a mysterious river sickness.

Kate is too young and too poor to join the woodcarving guild, and is forced to live out of her father's market stall, seeking out a living from her carvings.

The stranger, Linay, offers Kate her heart's wish in exchange for her shadow. She initially refuses, but later agrees when rumours of witchcraft spread and she feels she must escape the town to survive. Linay provides her with basic necessities, and her wish to not be alone results in her pet cat Taggle gaining the power of speech.

Kate joins a group of Roamers; nomads who travel from town to town selling goods. She meets Drina, a girl with no mother but a living father who tells Kate about an uncle who went mad once Drina's mother was burned as a witch. A few days later, Kate reveals to Drina that a witch took her shadow.

Throughout their journey, a mysterious fog creeps up the river, bringing sickness to the towns it touches. The people of the countryside are more fearful than ever, ready to pounce on any mysterious stranger or Roamer with accusations of witchcraft. Kate and Drina barely escape from an angry mob in Toila, and the Roamers start to believe that Kate is more trouble than she is worth. Worse, the river sickness has started to affect the Roamers as well. Some Roamers accuse Kate of being responsible for their sickness. The discovery that Kate now has no shadow, and that Taggle can talk, decides Kate's fate.

Kate wakes up in a small boat, and discovers that Linay has saved her from drowning in the water. Her hands are bandaged and she is in clean clothes, and Linay reveals that he did not want Kate to drown. Kate realizes that Linay is Drina's uncle, and that the Rusalka is actually Drina's mother, Lenore. Linay promises to return Kate's shadow to her when they reach Lov, a big city downriver, but he needs her to exact his plan for revenge. He is leading his sister down the river and keeping her under control by offering her his blood, but he has no more blood to give. He asks Kate to offer some of her own blood. In spite of Taggle's advice not to agree to Linay's deal, Kate reluctantly starts to feed her blood to Lenore, every night. Soon, she discovers that her shadow is held in a box made of her stall's ruins.

After an attempt to free her shadow fails, Kate decides that she cannot allow Linay to destroy Lov, and she flees Linay's boat, trying to beat him to the stone city. On the way, she meets Drina in the red vardo with Behjet. Behjet has fallen into the "death" sleep. Drina says that the ghost has taken other Roamers as well. Together, the two arrive at Lov. There, they see Linay being captured by the city guards. He is calling for himself to be burned.

Combined with Kate's shadow, she begins to destroy Lov. Kate and Drina plead with Linay to stop, but he refuses. Taggle, remembering the rule of magic, gives back the gift of his speech by selflessly jumping onto Kate's knife, killing himself, and ending the Rusalka's attack on the city. The Rusalka transforms back into Lenore, in ghost form, who comforts the dying Linay, and her daughter Drina. Before she fades, crossing over completely into the afterlife, she grants Kate one last gift and uses her witchcraft to bring Taggle back to life, although without the ability to speak.

Kate, Taggle and Drina leave Lov and find Behjet awake. Later, when it is almost dark, Plain Kate finds Linay's green boat. Inside, she finds the box which held her shadow. Inside there is a sack full of gold and silver, and a note on which Linay had written: Kate. I hope you live.

Critical Response[edit]

Plain Kate was well received by many critics. The New York Times Sunday Book Review praised the book, saying, "The plot unfolds with the swiftness and dramatic urgency of an adventure tale, yet each event has a measured gravity. Ambiguity and complexity shade the characterizations and the story line.[3]". The Toronto Star called Plain Kate "a beauty of a book[4]". The book was also nominated for, and won the English version of the 2011 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award as the year's best work in Canadian children's literature.

External links[edit]