________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 5. . . .October 4, 2013


Sorrow’s Knot.

Erin Bow.
New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books (Distributed in Canada by Scholastic Canada), 2013.
342 pp., hardcover & EBK, $19.99 (hc.), $19.99 (EBK).
ISBN 978-0-545-16666-9 (hc), ISBN 978-0-545-57800-4 (EBK).

Grades 10-12 / Ages 15-17.

Review by Jenice Batiforra.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



It was louder under the trees: the branches rustled and murmured above as if talking to each other. Otter had lived all her life in sight of this forest, but she had not stood in it before, not in a trackless place, not alone, not like this. The thick light shifted and coiled as the high branches moved. The trees spoke. And the dead: Otter’s bracelets stirred and twisted.

Otter pulled the yarns free and cast a cradle star between her fingers: a knot to detect and repel. The loops burrowed like leeches toward the soft places between her fingers. The crossed strings pulsed and tugged. But there was no direction to that tug. It was as if something was — everywhere.

She lifted the cradle-star as if it were a torch.

There was nothing near enough to see.

But the pulsing strings, her prickling skin, told her differently. If the cradle had been a torch, it would have cast a circle of light. And right outside that circle, the cords told her, there would be something watching.


In Sorrow's Knot, Erin Bow has created the world of Westmost, the last pinch on the edge of the earth. The story centres around Otter and her friends, Kestrel and Cricket. Cricket dreams of becoming a storyteller while Kestrel has it in her bloodline to become a ranger, one of the brave women who wander through the dangers of the forest to gather and hunt for the pinch. Otter has inherited her mother's power to bind the dead with ritual knots to prevent them from feeding upon the living.

     Westmost is inhabited by the Shadowed People, a group of free women organized according to cords. There is Newt, a bonesetter whose cord is healer. There is Flea of the storytelling cord who keeps the history of the pinch. Then there is Thistle, the tough master of the ranger cord. Finally, there are Tamarack and Willow, the first and second binders of Westmost. Binders are women of status, revered for their power to repel and unmake the dead.

     The author lays the foundations of the theme and plot by introducing how the main characters are subverting the norms and traditions of their people. The crux of the story lies in the knot, a tie that binds. Binders use knots to protect and join things together. They lead the newly dead to the scaffolds, binding their corpses high in trees for safety and ensuring that they leave the world of the living, for in Westmost, some dead come back. There are slips, creatures who are overcome with hunger. Then there are gasts, cunning and ever watching. But the most terrifying and cruel are those which were once humans, the White Hands. A person touched by a White Hand has nine days to live in madness before they become a White Hand themselves.

     Yet Otter's mother Willow, hailed as the greatest binder of her age, is behaving strangely. Her power is turning backwards: she is unbinding. When Tamarack dies, Willow is overcome with sorrow and fear and refuses to let her go. And so at her funeral she binds her, and against her people's customs she calls her back to the world of the living. This act sets in motion a series of events that places Westmost in danger and obligates Otter and her friends to find out the mystery of the White Hand and how to unmake it.

     Erin Bow was previously reviewed in CM for Plain Kate, a book for which she won the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award in 2011. Sorrow's Knot is a high fantasy novel whose language demonstrates Bow's deft hand as a storyteller. The world she has created in Westmost with its people, customs and lore are fully realized and richly described. Her words are carefully crafted, flowing smoothly with grace and elegance as she weaves a cyclical tale about death, losing one's dreams and making room for new ways of thinking. Aside from invoking delicious terror, what was particularly enjoyable about the novel was the author's use of frame stories. These stories provided a beautiful symmetry between the two halves of the novel, skillfully compressing its larger themes and recapitulating Otter's development as a woman of power.

     Sorrow's Knot is highly recommended for young adult readers of fantasy novels.

Highly Recommended.

Jenice Batiforra was previously a Branch Head Librarian at the Winnipeg Public Library in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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