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Review: Thorn by Intisar Khanani

Review: Thorn by Intisar Khanani

‘A princess with two futures. A destiny all her own

Between her cruel family and the contempt she faces at court, Princess Alyrra has always longed to escape the confines of her royal life. But when she’s betrothed to the powerful prince Kestrin, Alyrra embarks on a journey to his land with little hope for a better future.

When a mysterious and terrifying sorceress robs Alyrra of both her identity and her role as princess, Alyrra seizes the opportunity to start a new life for herself as a goose girl.

But Alyrra soon finds that Kestrin is not what she expected. The more Alyrra learns of this new kingdom, the pain and suffering its people endure, as well as the danger facing Kestrin from the sorceress herself, the more she knows she can’t remain the goose girl forever.

With the fate of the kingdom at stake, Alyrra is caught between two worlds and ultimately must decide who she is, and what she stands for.’

Thorn is a loose retelling of the Goose Girl Fairytale and one that I enjoyed immensely. The story introduces the reader to Alyrra, who finds herself at the mercy of her cruel brother’s physical and verbal attacks, while her mother scorns her and quite contentedly ignores any harm that comes to her. To her mother, Alyrra’s only use is as a political pawn, and even then she cannot understand that anyone would truly want her, and between the mental games of her sibling and parent, she may be somewhat glad to be free of them, but has no expectation of finding anything more promising in being married off to a prince who hasn’t even visited to set eyes on her. On the journey to this new land, she is accompanied by a girl she has previously called out for theft, with instructions that she is to find her a husband. However, the girl, Valka, is not content with this, and has made a deal with a powerful sorceress to take Alyrra’s place, quite literally transforming herself into the princess and Alyrra into her.

Valka further conspires to have Alyrra fall further from grace and encourages the prince’s father to find her some work away from her, leaving her with the job of tending for the geese and cleaning out their lodgings. It’s a job that Alyrra doesn’t outright object to and slowly grows accustomed to, finding a sense of achievement in her daily life and finally making real connections with the people around her. Of this particular stretch of the narrative, I especially liked that it’s acknowledged that there’s a language barrier and that not everyone in the world speaks the same language. Alyrra has to make efforts to learn enough to communicate, and it’s through some miscommunications that she ends up being renamed Thorn. I love it when novels feature found family, and was pleased to read that this an experience that Alyrra/Thorn (Thorn from now on!) has, considering her horrific experiences with her own blood. She finds herself with people (with a couple of notable exceptions) who care for each other and do what they can to be supportive and ensure that everyone has what they need, which is everything that she’s been missing from her previous home life. She has to work much harder, but she appears to find satisfaction in it, and in finally getting to experience a world outside of life as royalty, she finally gets to see the disparity between the lives of the poor and that of the higher classes. Her suffering may have been of a different sort to theirs, yet this is one of the things that helps her to empathise with the plight of the poor and leads her to try and see to it that the children she meets get to have better lives and opportunities, which bodes well for what she would do if she truly had the power to change things.

I don’t want to discuss the more magical elements of the plot in too much detail, as they’re key to a lot of the reveals and I don’t want to spoil the story! What I will stick with saying is that I really loved how the different features of the Goose Girl story were woven into this retelling (and I adore a good, convincing retelling that still manages to be all its own tale). What I’ll say a little bit about instead is Thorn’s character development over the course of the novel because, in my opinion, this was one of the standout features of the book. At the opening of the story, it’s as if she’s crammed everything that she has the potential to be into a small corner of herself where it won’t be noticed and she can’t give anyone more reason to look her way and inflict harm. Taken away from those who would hurt her and introduced to the real world – and one where she doesn’t know the language or customs – she gradually gains the courage to stand up for what she believes in and become not who she could have been, but who she wants to be. In Thorn’s case, I think the unfamiliarity of the world around her and the language barrier work in her favour, for they force her to adapt and stop her from potentially falling back on old habits. I would very happily read more tales about Thorn and I hope this isn’t the last we see of her.

Thorn is out 24th March! Thank you to Hot Key Books for sending me a copy for review!