I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began reading Sorrow’s Knot, but I was instantly hooked by the unusual story line and flawless writing of Erin Bow.
The story combines fantasy with horror in a non-traditional way, maintaining a distinct Native American feel throughout the entire book. Perhaps it is because of the actual act of the characters tying knots, or maybe it is the unusual character names such as Otter, Cricket, and Willow that brings this feeling to mind – whatever it is, I love it.
The characters exist in a world that is intertwined with nature and the everyday workings of their tribe of people, each person taking on a distinct job that is necessary for the tribe to survive. The women rule the tribe and the “jobs” involve tying distinct magical knots that each serve different purposes. This sounds like a rather silly idea for a story, but once you read the book you will realize how completely this idea works. There are various jobs within the tribe, but the most important is the role of the Binders – those who tie knots to send the dead away from the world of the living. In addition to shuttling departed spirits from this world, Binders also have a great deal of power which is used to keep the evil spirits, known as the White Hand, at bay.
The main character in this story is Otter, and she is from a long line of powerful Binders. Otter possesses an unusually strong power, but her mother refuses to teach her the ways of the binder because she sees a darkness in her, claiming that the knots have turned on themselves. This leaves Otter alone with her power and no knowledge of how to harness it, so she has no choice but to try to figure out her path on her own, and thus begins the story.
Throughout the story, Otter is accompanied by her two best friends Cricket and Kestrel. These characters have their own flaws and strengths, and their relationship with each other and with Otter is incredibly powerful and, above all else, human. The characters did feel a bit separate from me as the reader… I feel like there is so much more I could know about each of the characters, and I am left with nothing more than an impression of each of them. If you are really into character-driven books, that might be a problem for you, but I felt that it was perfect for the type of book that this is. Some books suck you into the characters so deeply that the events going on outside of them are only a fraction the story. This book is the opposite – you get to see what the characters are doing but you are nothing more than an observer, and you only read what is relevant to the story. And it works for this book.
It is important to mention that this story is not as light as I imagined it would be – in fact, it is very dark. It tackles serious feeling and raw emotions that are tied in with death and grief, and there were several points in the book where I had to sit back and collect myself before continuing on, having been so touched by what I had just read. There is a lot of sorrow in this book.
In addition to the raw emotion tied in with sadness, there is horror in this book that is difficult to describe. I found myself covered in goose bumps several times when the White Hand comes into the picture – it is just incredibly eerie. I found the book delving into the full-blown horror genre more often than I thought it would, but it strengthened the book rather than hindering it.
I loved this book. It is fantasy and horror and folklore all at the same time, and the writing is exquisite and consistent. I cannot think of a single thing I would change about it. As soon as I was finished with the book I began reading it again – it’s that good! This book will be a permanent resident on my favorites shelf. I can’t wait to see what Erin Bow does next!
Holly has a Bachelors degree in Environmental Science and owns a small business with her husband selling fleece and hand-spun yarn. When she is not spinning yarn, she does freelance work as a graphic design artist and is highly involved in animal rescue.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Malena Public Relations. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.