Wednesday, October 9, 2013
ARC Review: Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow
Title: Sorrow's Knot
Author: Erin Bow
Rating: 5 Stars
Release Date: October 29th, 2013
If I had realized how apt the title of this novel is, perhaps I wouldn't have picked it up. In her sophomore novel, Erin Bow, weaves an eerie tale of grief; of the living, of the dead, and our inability to let go of our loved ones. Granted, it's a fairly weighty subject matter, but that doesn't discount the fact that this book blew my mind. I just didn't see it coming. Sorrow's Knot is fantasy at its best: creepy and alluring; is contemporary at its finest: realistic and honest emotions; and horror at its creepiest: shivering but sure.
Sorrow's Knot takes place in a land much like North America, ruled by matriarchal societies in which boys, after becoming men, leave their homes, never to seen or heard from again. It is the women, in this world, who are born with power; the power to create knots. Rangers, to create the knots that will hunt animals and protect the villages; Storytellers, to create the knots that will make their tales all the more real; and Binders, to create the knots that will help the dead to depart from the living. And yet, the Binders are of utmost importance to these tribes, not just because of their duty to help the dead pass on, but because they have the power to keep away the White Hand, an evil manifestation of a human spirit kept on Earth. Otter, the daughter of Willow, the strongest Binder since Mad Spider herself, has always known that she will become a Binder herself one day. When Willow, however, refuses to take on Otter as an apprentice, claiming the knots have turned against themselves, Otter is left with immense power and little training. And, worst of all, White Hands lie near, waiting to touch the minds of the living and turn them insane. With her life slowly unraveling, spiraling out of control in every way, Otter is left with only one choice: find a way to stop the White Hands or become one herself.
Bow's novel is enticing from the very first page itself; impossible to put down. Otter's world is so different from our own, but Bow's world-building is woven throughout the tale, in the little things. In the customs, in the phrases, in the relationships. Nothing is explicitly stated, but rather subtly hinted at; folklore repeated, clues scattered, and dialogue haunting. It's a masterpiece to read, merely because the writing is so beautiful and chilling at the same time. The White Hands of Bow's novel are utterly creepy, being slowly built-up into the terrifying monsters they truly are. In fact, the reason this book excels is precisely because everything is built up slowly, especially the relationships. As a novel dealing with grief, there is - obviously - a large presence of death throughout the story, but despite knowing this, our hearts involuntarily go towards these characters, becoming enraptured by their tales and brutal realities. Sorrow's Knot is deeply emotional because of these connections; because we come to empathize so deeply with these real-life people and are just as hurt when darkness and sorrow come their way.
One of my favorite aspects of this tale, however, is Otter. As a protagonist, Otter is unrivaled, particularly in the realistic influx of her emotions. From the first moment we are introduced to her itself, Otter is full of gray matter: hating her mother for abandoning her, but loving her nevertheless; terrified of her lack of a role in society, but courageous enough to stand up for what she believes in; desperate to fit in, but fiercely loyal no matter what. Every one of the relationships Otter sustains - particularly with her best friends Kestrel and Cricket - is shockingly nuanced. Kestrel, Cricket, and Otter are a fierce trio, constantly there for one another. Kestrel and Cricket's romance - short, but sweet - is never a detriment to their friendship with Otter and only strengthens the bonds between them. Kestrel, a Ranger, and Cricket, a Storyteller, both play important roles in this novel, right alongside Otter, the Binder. From the beginning to the end, their friendship is strong and true, realistic and bold, practically unseen in its honesty. And that, plain and simple, is what I loved so much about the characters in this novel; they were flawed, but proud of who they were, never romanticized or dishonestly portrayed. With the subject matter that she tackled, it was integral for Bow to keep her characters realistic, even in their cruelty, and that came across so well, particularly within the cast of secondary characters who make up the people of this village.
Although there is a romance in this novel, it isn't a focus. In fact, it only emerges during the last quarter, or so, of the story, but still manages to be well-developed and poignant. Sorrow's Knot is very much a creeping mystery, a slow unraveling of the truths hidden in this society. The Rangers, Storytellers, and Binders are kept apart, sworn to secrecy to never reveal their knots and lessons to one another. It's a strange realm, that's for sure, and it's particularly jarring to see males referred to as weak, merely because it's so far from the truth of our own patriarchal society today. Yet, I love that this novel, though looking at a flipped society of female dominance, never veers away from the main plot threads. With her world, Bow manages to touch upon many intriguing topics - the power of secrets, the misconceptions society leaves us with - but those only enrich her tale. With many authors, it's easy to get carried away by these side issues or, more often, ignore their impact on the characters, but Bow strikes such a perfect balance between her tale, her world, and her characters.
Frankly speaking, Sorrow's Knot is a novel one simply has to experience. It's difficult to put into words exactly why it works, but it just does. It's unique, on so many different levels, and leaves such a jarring impact; of our world, of our afterlife, and of death in general. Although it seems to be a very heavy novel, it truly is more horror-story-esque than anything else. And yet, I wouldn't hesitate to thrust it upon any unsuspecting passer-by. I can certainly promise you one thing: it'll leave your hearts in knots. Ones you just won't want to untie.