I received an eARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.
Genre: Fantasy Age Range: YA Star Rating: 4 stars Series: standalone
In a world where anyone can cast a life-destroying curse, only one person has the power to unravel them.
Kellen does not fully understand his unique gift, but helps those who are cursed, like his friend Nettle who was trapped in the body of a bird for years. She is now Kellen’s constant companion and his closest ally.
But the Unraveller carries a curse himself and, unless he and Nettle can remove it, Kellen is a danger to everything – and everyone – around him . .
Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
UNRAVELLER has all the quirky heart you expect from Frances Hardinge’s books.
Curses are born from human hatred and sense of being wronged, and the misguided attempt by magical spiders to help. Kellen can unravel curses by understanding why a curse was set, helping the curser find peace – and restoring the cursee (who often did something to “deserve” it.) There’s therefore stigma within the society for both the cursed, who don’t seem to have a cure for being able to curse and thus curse again, and also the cursees.
The flip side of Kellen’s abilities is that he unravels woven things. Clothes, tapestries, furniture… It was a really fun magical “misability” (that does come in handy, but not as much as it’s a hinderance!) that fits in perfectly with the quirky feel of Frances Hardinge’s books – that charm of a slightly off-kilter world.
Kellen is so abrupt and impulsive, not always thinking before he speaks – so gets in trouble as much as he does in people’s good books for helping them. By contrast, he travels with Nettle, who was once cursed to be a heron and has much more common sense. Her brother was cursed as a gull and has remained on (plus two other cursed siblings with different outcomes) leading to some complicated family dynamics!
The world is rich with myths and folklore, woven through the story as curses. There is the bone harp from the twa sisters (also retold in SISTERSONG), the Brothers’ Grimm Six Swans (also retold in SIX CRIMSON CRANES), horses who drown people, and so much more. I loved seeing all these folklore tales (which have been told so many times) reworked in a new way to fit a new world and magic system. The familiarity of those tales helps make this new world also feel familiar.
Read my reviews of other books by Frances Hardinge:
Fly by Night: