Previous F-BOM author partner Intisar Khanani has a new book out this week, Thorn, a retelling of The Goose Girl. You should probably head over to her Twitter or Facebook pages right now, since Intisar is celebrating her book’s birthday with an extended giveaway campaign!
I don’t want to brag, but I read Thorn years ago. I even have the proof right here. But Thorn had already been picked up by HarperTeen, and so I waited (impatiently) for the re-release, so I could write up my review. FINALLY, the time has come. Let’s dive into this shiny new update to a very old tale.
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.
One thing that Thorn has always had going for it is that gorgeous cover, which HarperTeen wisely decided to keep. The addition of a bold red spine makes it all the more striking. Now that you’ve read the summary though, let’s get into the Scale:
Not offensive to women = 1/1 pt
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2/2 pts
Passes the Bechdel-Wallace test = 3/3 pts
We meet main character Alyrra in her small home kingdom, but she won’t be there for long. Alyrra has been chosen as the bride of a prince of the mighty Menaiya. When Alyrra is betrayed by her companion Valka, she soon becomes Thorn, a goose girl.
There are a lot of female characters, and one thing I like about Thorn is the variety of ways it passes the Bechdel-Wallace test. Alyrra has her friends, her threatening mother, her ripostes with Valka. All of these exchanges give us a new side to Alyrra and showcase the variety of women characters.
The book does not pass for PoC or LGBT+ representation. (Menaiyans are described as darker than Alyrra, but nothing specific beyond that.)
Intisar Khanani was our Fall 2017 author partner. Read our review of her book Sunbolt and the exclusive short story included in the F-BOM special edition.
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4/4 pts
Thorn expands on its fairy tale origins quite significantly, but there are fun elements that pull us back into the old tale. My personal favorite is the Wind and its portrayal (no spoilers here though!). Another carryover from the fairytale is the horse Falada, here a member of an ancient race.
From there, though, the world-building diverges, leaving us in the rich world of Khanani’s own making. Here there are thieves ruling the city while dangerous “snatchers” abound, and the poor suffer while courtiers count their riches and spar with words. In her new lowly position, Alyrra is well-placed to broaden her worldview from that of a sheltered princess.
There is action and magic and character growth, leading to full points in this section. However, the book does have a slow burn. I’ll talk about this in the next section.
Above and Beyond General Media = 5/5 pts
In the classic hero’s journey, one stage is “the refusal of the call.” This is when the hero balks, one way or another, at fulfilling the destiny we know they were born to fulfill. In a lot of modern fantasy, we are more likely to see forthright bravery, and very little time is spent on the refusal, if any.
Alyrra spends much of Thorn refusing the call. Her dominant trait is her goodness, not bold heroics. But there is a cost to Alyrra’s meekness, and she learns the hard way that a quiet life has its own hardships.
All this makes for slower pacing. There is action, but Alyrra doesn’t drive much of it. Instead, we learn about our main character through her quiet moments, as she slowly emerges from her shell.
There’s a uniqueness to Alyrra that we don’t see as much in fantasy, and I appreciated that. The trope of the Strong Female Character is much-maligned here at F-BOM. We like women with depth. Women who make mistakes…and then find their power. Once Alyrra finds her power, she’s ready to stop refusing the call, and forge ahead.
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