Book Reviews, Fantasy

Review: Thorn by Intisar Khanani

Image result for thorn intisar khanani

3.5 out of 5 stars

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“Should I run so far that I reach the sea, I should not have run far enough, for the thing I run from rides on my back and in my blood and will not be shaken.” 

Review copy provided by the publisher through Edelweiss.

Mistreated by her cruel family and mocked in court, Princess Alyrra has always felt more comfortable in her palace’s kitchen or riding free on horseback. Longing to escape her lonely existence Alyrra accepts the politically motivated marriage proposal of a price from a far off land. Though she has never met her prince his delegates have shown her more respect and loyalty than her own people. Alyrra sets off across the lands full of hope, seeking a better life, only to have a great and fearful sorceress steal her identity and title from her, casting her out as a servant. This unexpected freedom gives Alyrra opportunity to start a new life as the palace Goose Girl, a life in which she finds real joy, love, and contentment. A stark contrast from her life as a princess. But not all is well in her new home. The dark sorceress has great and deadly plans for the prince’s bloodline and only Alyrra can stand against her and make things right. But at what cost?

Oh boy! This was quite a ride – and it has some interesting publication history too! I didn’t realise at the time of requesting it but this edition of Thorn is a revised edition of a previously indie published title from 2011. I managed to track down an original publication of the book and it really shows that Khanani gave this new edition some extra love and attention.

For those who may not know, Thorn is a retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale The Goose Girl (Just a heads up, all the major points mentioned in the Wikipedia synopsis are present and used as emotionally heavy scenes/points within Thorn so be cautious if you want to come into this story unspoiled). As with any good fairy tale retelling it is not a one for one recount of events of the original, but a wholly original retelling of the tale. The foundations of the story are there and are immediately recognisable, but Khanani has made it her own.

There are so many things I liked about Khanani’s retelling from the setting (a Generic-European-Princess in a Middle-Eastern-Coded Kingdom), the characters (Oh that stables crew!), the discussions of women’s rights and safety in fantasy society, and the surprisingly heavy discussions about justice and morality. There’s a lot to sink your teeth into in this story, and that’s probably why I devoured this book. It really helped me out of a reading slump!

Probably my favourite thing was how the story treated Alyrra’s curse. So often cursed characters languish about and woe-be-me themselves through their stroy. I mean that’s how curses should work, right? I just loved how content and genuinely joyful Alyrra was in her cursed life, with her chosen family. Alyrra wholeheartedly embracing her “Cursed” circumstances and dreading ever having to be a princess again really made for a nice twist on common fairy tale conventions, though I know this is present in the original tale. Alyrra herself was a great character, and one who found herself in a situation with no easy answers. She relishes in time spent at work and seeks justice and safety for the people of her adopted country, even at a cost to herself. Though she does sometimes come across as a bit of a woobie, she is constantly dusting herself off and moving on. Think that one really cool scene from Captain Marvel. Alyrra wants happiness, justice, and kindness in a world where it isn’t freely given, and yet she continues to love and do what is right by her people.

While this is often listed as a “romance”, I can safely say that any romance within is greatly overshadowed by Alyrra’s love and relationships with her chosen family. The “romance” mostly takes place in the subtext and is so very chaste and open-ended that you could be forgiven for missing it. I really appreciated this more chaste “maybe someday” relationship based on mutual respect and trust that Khanani has crafted, especially considering some of the other relationships glorified in YA *cough* SJM *cough*. But as sweet as it is, it can’t hold a candle to Alyrra’s other relationships. Khanani has written such a beautiful tale of a young woman finding the people who she loves and who love and appreciate her in return. I felt shades of Matilda and Miss Honey in some chapters and I loved it. Sometimes you’re born into your family, and sometimes you need to accept a proposal from a foreign prince for political advantage, be betrayed and stripped of your title and find work as a Goose Girl to find your family within the stables.

While I did love the majority of this story, there were a few issues I had with it. I did find that the early pacing felt a little off and we seemed to speed through the plot at break neck speed until we were in an interesting place, narratively, which is understandable but felt a bit jarring. Then despite the length of the book, I feel like there were still a handful of story lines left dangling. Characters of apparent significance who were never fully explored. Possibly Thorn‘s worst and most unavoidable sin was that it features a talking horse. I do not like talking horses. I do not like talking animals in any form. I cannot and will not explain it. It’s just…silly, you know? And speaking of silly… the villain’s motivation. Like, I get it but also… I don’t get it. And having Alyrra learning a new language in a matter of weeks? Yes some things read a bit silly but if I hadn’t been reading so critically (and if there hadn’t been a talking horse, again not entirely Khanani’s fault) I don’t think it would have bothered me so much. Still….

Remember when my reviews were nice and coherent? I really like the one I wrote about Nocturna but can’t seem to capture that tone again. *shrugs* C’est la vie.

Khanani’s Thorn is a fresh and compelling take on an underrated Grimm classic. Though often quite Grimm, between the magic, love, court intrigue and – well – talking horses, there’s enough to satisfy any fairy tale lover.

Potential triggers in this book include physical abuse, rape, emotional abuse, gas lighting, animal cruelty, sexual assault and violence.

Just a heads up if anyone needs it. Stay safe 🙂

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Phew! That’s one of the two ARC’s I’ve had for the last month or so out of the way. Despite the mid range rating I really did enjoy it.

I’m currently reading the much anticipated (and hyped!) Bone Crier’s Moon and reader, I love it. Keep an eye out for a review for that soonish! This month’s Fairy Loot box is running late so I’m trying to chase that down, so expect an unboxing for that bad boy too.

And a bit of housekeeping – my WordPress licence renewal is due this month (happy birthday?) and I’m thinking about re-branding. Just a thought at the moment but don’t be surprised if next month things are a bit…different.

As always, happy reading and I’ll see you next time 🙂

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