We all have those story elements that inevitably lure us into picking up a book. Maybe it’s mountain climbing thrillers or anything with “Paris” in the title. Two things that guarantee I will at least read the flap copy are bookstores and London. Bookstores in London? At pretty much any time period? Yes. Natalie Jenner’s new release, Bloomsbury Girls, is set in a venerable London bookstore in 1950 and I immediately sank into the rhythms of the inner workings of a bookstore with a sense of wry recognition. Following up her bestseller, The Jane Austen Society, Jenner brings Evie Stone to the forefront after her labors to catalog the vast library at Chawton Great House. It’s post-war Britain, Evie has finished at Cambridge and finds herself in need of a job. Using her connections after an academic disappointment, she secures a job at Bloomsbury Books in the heart of London.
There’s a family joke regarding me and my cousin. We didn’t live in the same state and when we did get a chance to spend time together, usually at our grandparents, usually at the tail end of summer, our idea of quality time was reading different books next to each other. All the adults thought it was perplexing/hilarious. We never saw each other and now we were too into our respective books to even interact? What I remember, what they didn’t see, were the moments when we’d pause and read a humorous passage out loud, share a moment of mutual appreciation for the author’s wit or clever turn of phrase. These days, when I run across a passage in my current book that I’m pretty sure she’ll find amusing, I text her a picture. She responds accordingly. And I still feel like we are sharing an experience. So when I read The Verifiers and came across multiple quotable moments to text her, I knew I had stumbled onto a good read.
The best I can do is slouch in a corner rereading The Bostonians on my phone so I won’t start telling various member of my family to just shut up already. Henry James is about the only author I can bear right now. I could do with some eloquent introspection and regret, and he’s safely ensconced in the pre-Internet age. Also, his female protagonists’ subpar decision-making skills are really resonating with me. (208)
But let’s talk about the book.
When I got to the last page of Nettle and Bone, it was with a sigh of satisfaction of a story well-told and meticulously crafted. While many of the traditional high fantasy elements are there, princes and princesses, curses and godmothers, quests and goblin markets, each is subverted in the most delightful way. Marra is the third daughter of a tiny kingdom struggling to remain autonomous against more powerful neighbors to the south and north. Her mother has laid her political pieces carefully, using first one daughter, then the second to appease one potential foe to hold off the other. Marra is packed off to a convent to keep her out of the way, but also in reserve. However, when Marra discovers the terrible secret keeping her sister trapped in her marriage, she will grasp at any way to free her. Including seeking out a dust-wife with a demon chicken, braving the goblin market, and crafting a dog from bones.