sorrows knot

Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow

The dead live in every shadow.  There are small dead and larger dead, but they are all dangerous.  That’s why the women of the Shadowed People have binders, members of their tribe who are able to use knotted string to turn the dead away and even destroy them.  Otter is a binder, daughter of Willow, one of the strongest binders ever.  As she spends the last of her childhood playing with her two best friends, Cricket and Kestrel, she is almost entirely carefree.  Then Cricket is attacked by one of the dead, and suddenly life is not so simple.  The wards around the town seem weaker, and Willow is slowly becoming insane as her power to bind turns inside out.  As one of the strongest dead, a White Hand, stalks the village, Otter’s must find her own role not only as binder but as a woman of the Shadowed People.

This is the second YA book by Bow and it is a stunner.  First, you have the fact that it is entirely unique.  It’s a horror novel set in the distant past and populated by aboriginal tribes.  The entire world that Bow has created is well developed and manages to be familiar yet profoundly different from anything you have read of before.  Then you have the characters, who are strong and amazing.  There is Otter, the brave and proud girl who transforms into a woman before your eyes, but not before facing the horrors that are plaguing her world.  Kestrel, the ranger, who is also brave but loves deeply and ferociously too.  And Cricket, the storyteller, quick-witted and one of the few boys in the village of women. 

It is Bow’s writing that really sings throughout the novel.  It is her writing that shows us the world she has built, lets us love these characters so deeply, and allows us understand the danger and horror as well.  Here is a quote from page four, early in the book, that shows her skill in creating a place:

So Otter was born, and so she came to girlhood, among Shadowed People, the free women of the forest, in the embrace of mountains so old they were soft-backed, so dark with pine that they were black in summer.  A river came out of those mountains, young and quick, shallow and bone-cold.  Where it washed into a low meadow, the people had cleared the birch saplings and scrub pines and built a stronghold of sunlight.

Her voice is that of a story teller, filled with rhythm and intention.  She captures the setting she has created in just the style of her writing.

Unique and amazing, this book offers a fresh take on horror and an incredible teen heroine who faces death in many ways.  Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.