Nettle & Bone was this month’s Sword & Laser Book Club pick, and was a tremendously brisk, and very enjoyable read. It also introduced me to a variety of fantasy fiction I hadn’t encountered before – the “Grimcozy”
The “Grimcozy” novel is something I’d almost describe as a lighter form of Grimdark – in Grimdark the environment of the world is bleak, the characters are frequently very morally compromised antiheroes, and are also kind of assholes. Victories are rarely clean, and are frequently pyrrhic if they happen at all. The Grimcozy, on the other hand, does have that bleakness, but has much better protagonists, who are generally motivated by being good people, and while the big wins may be pyrrhic, there are more than a few small clean wins.
To use this story as an example – the plot of Nettle & Bone has the main character, Marra, seeking to save her older sister from an abusive marriage – abusive in very realistic ways (including the idea of the older sister trying to stay pregnant to stave off physical abuse). However to do this she needs to make a dog out of bone and weave a basket from nettles, before she’s able to get the help from a Dust-Wife (a witch who can communicate with the dead) to help in saving her sister.
In a lot of respects, this makes this feel like a bit of The Princess Bride, a bit of Diskworld, but with a darker coat of paint. Marra is idealistic but not naive. The dust-wife, with her connection with death and the dead giving her a sort of cynical-but-not-fatalist vibe much like Granny Weatherwax – she’s not defeatist, but she knows that what will need to be done to save Marra’s sister will be very hard and will require a lot of luck.
Again, our protagonists aren’t “anti-heroes” in the sense that they don’t care, or are spectacularly morally compromised, or are only in it for the money. They’re here to do the right thing, but with the awareness that a final victory, even if they absolutely accomplish their goal, may have some real consequences, and they won’t be as well off as they were when they started the story. However, they’re going to try anyway – and where they have feet of clay along the way, it’s less because they’re not motivated to continue and more because they need to know what they need to do in order to continue.
In short, this book was a fantastic read, and it really washed some of the grody taste from Brightness Falls from the Air out of my mouth.
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