Ask a Bookseller: 'Nettle and Bone' is a twisted fairy tale with horror and humor

A book cover with a person's back.
"Nettle & Bone" by T. Kingfisher
Courtesy of the publisher.

Angie Tally of The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, N.C., has been on the lookout for interesting books that aren’t teen coming-of-age stories nor end-of-life remembrances but have protagonists who are in the middle of life. One of her favorite examples comes from an often genre-defying North Carolina author: T. Kingfisher. Tally describes her novel “Nettle and Bone” as “a deeply satisfying and darkly funny feminist fairy tale.”

Marra, age 30, is the youngest of three princesses, shyly stowed away in a convent, minding her own business. Or she would be — if she didn’t have to rescue her sister. Her eldest sister was married to a prince, but she has died in a way that suggests her princely husband might have been involved. Marra’s second sister has been married off to the same prince, and Marra fears for her life. Her journey to save her sister is spun from fairy-tale cloth but entirely Kingfisher’s own. There are tasks to be completed, such as assembling a dog from bones (a delightful character, Tally adds, with all the traits of a puppy — though when he scratches his ears, sometimes bones go flying.) There is a rag-tag band to be assembled: a gravewitch, Marra’s fairy godmother (whose gifts tend to go wonky), an accursed chick, and a knight who has failed so terribly at his career he has been sold to the goblin market.

Note from Emily Bright: T. Kingfisher is the pen-name of Ursula Vernon; under that name, she’s published numerous excellent and funny books for ages 8-12, including the Hamster Princess series (twisted fairy tales in their own right), the Dragonbreath series. I love “Castle Hangnail,” which features a cast of oddly loveable minions and a 12-year-old wicked witch who comes to take ownership of the castle (though her parents think she’s away at summer camp.)

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