Thank you Netgalley and Intisar Khanani for this ARC copy of Thorn!
Language is a weapon, Alyrra. You must learn to defend yourself with what you can.
The story of Princess Alyrra begins like the tale of any princess - she’s about to be married off to the prince of a nearby kingdom. Is he kind? Or is he cruel like her brother? And what of the king? These questions remain unanswered as a terrible curse shortly befalls the Princess and new challenges arise. Thorn faces many issues such as what it means to be trustworthy, loyal, just, and forgiving.
Let me just start by saying I was blown away by this book. I had gone into this expecting a typical romance between Prince and Princess while they face together a wicked enemy. Maybe some Beauty and the Beast elements (hence Thorn as in a rose bush’s thorn). While there are a vast variety of retellings included, namely the Goose Girl, the rest is mostly untrue.
Alyrra begins as a quiet girl, believed to be weak by most of her court. Even her mother and brother have little affections for her. As terrible as this sounds, I actually liked that her relationship with her family was poor (an understatement). Based off my many readings of similar genre books, this is not common. Lucky for her, she’s become friends with many of the servant - her family when none other existed.
A mysterious sorcerer curses Alyrra by swapping bodies with another female and of course she cannot tell anyone about what happened. Alyrra does not want to be reminded of who’s body she’s within so she takes on the name of Thoreena (which becomes Thorn) after reaching Menaiya, the neighboring kingdom. Here in the new lands, she flourishes. She’s able to have the kind of life she’s always wanted - one without responsibilities, the stares, and the dreadfulness of court. Thorn faces disputes over her new life, though. Should she ignore her duty to her people and those endangered by sorcerer so she can retain the little slice of peace she’s gained?
Thorn is essentially amazing and I’m willing to label her as one of the most outstanding women in literature. She’s quick on her feet and knows how to play the games of power and words like an expert (even if she’s rather leave the court behind and avoid the shenanigans). She able to quickly adapt to whatever her environment is which proves to be one of her greatest strengths. Thorn takes everything she’s learned from the palace, the stables, and some very unfortunate events to develop her own well-rounded ideas and uses what power she has left to obtain the best outcome for all. She tries very hard to be selfish, to live for herself, but compassion overruns her.
There is a boy but their relationship isn’t about romance, though one day it might be. Thorn’s reasoning could have been inspired by a cheap love, but it isn’t. She does what she does because it’s the right thing to do and she’s willing to die for what’s right. That’s the most empowering element to this novel - one I rarely see as strongly depicted as in Thorn.
Thorn is also a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Death is not shied away from. The terrible people and the terrible things they do are everywhere. Thorn is ultimately about how to deal with all the awful things that happen in life in the most honest way possible. Things that shouldn’t happen do happen. It’s thought-provoking and it hurts.
Part of the reason I am so surprised by the greatest that is Thorn is because the novel starts out weak. It suffers from the “all will be explained later” idea which, while everything is eventually explained, I was left wondering who various characters were in social standing and personally to Alyrra. This made me step back from the story, thus I took longer to become immersed into Khanani’s world. A simple explanation after the character’s name and introduction would have sufficed and solved any issues. The writing style is also not the greatest at first, but that changes as Alyrra changes. I grew to see the positives of the writing style and respected how Khanani chose to tell her tale.
Finally, there are a ton of great references in Thorn. I’m not sure all were intentional, but two really stood out to me. Such as when Alyrra says “You have no power over me.”Labyrinth anyone? No? Maybe? That’s okay; I have a major crush on the Goblin King and have watched David Bowie’s movie enough to know it word for word. Also, there is a talking Horse that befriends Alyrra and offers sage advice. His tale reminds me of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. Mostly because I just recently read it but similar traits exist in both Horses of the two books.
Overall, I would recommend this book for readers that like a strong female lead, classic retellings, a bit of magic, and a story not strictly about romance.
Writing style: 2/5
All around idea: 4/5
Final Score: 3.5/5