ThornThorn by Intisar Khanani

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first picked up this book because it was written by a college friend of mine. I was so excited to hear that she had published a book – a YA fantasy – that I simply had to support her in her endeavor to be a professional story-teller. I am so glad that I did because this really is a beautifully written novel.

This is a fairy tale inspired by a fairy tale. I’m not as familiar with the story of The Goose Girl as I am other stories such as Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, but I don’t really think it matters.

This story stands strongly by itself. It’s the story of a princess who doesn’t feel like a princess but who, by the end of the story, realizes that she is a true queen – at least in spirit if not in name. This is a story about arranged marriage, magic, justice, and the power of one’s true spirit. Princess Alyrra starts out as a girl who loathes courtly gossip and intrigue and wishes to be free of her prickly mother and hateful brother. The Menaiyan king comes seeking her hand in marriage for his son, Prince Kestrin.

You learn early that Alyrra is a gentile soul, who is very introverted, perceptive, and thoughtful; she’s aware of the intrigues that play out around her but she feels powerless to do anything about them. Bound by duty to her kingdom and her family she agrees to the arranged marriage.

The beginning of the book was slow for me. The danger of having the narrative in first person is that I became as apathetic as Alyrra about her situation. I liked her but was not sure whether or not I had the patience to get to the meat of the story. Though there was an interesting scene at the end of Chapter 3 with a sorceress, the threats of the scene didn’t linger long enough in Alyrra’s thoughts to maintain its impact. It wasn’t until Chapter 6, the second appearance of the sorceress, that the story really picked up and started to take shape for me.

I was happy I stuck with her story. Chapter 6 is where treachery truly hits Alyrra at full force and she is forced to switch bodies with Lady Valka, who is Alyrra’s enemy – though the reader doesn’t really understand why until later in the story. Suddenly, the princess physically becomes a lady in waiting and the lady physically becomes the princess. This is the point where Alyrra becomes Lady Thoreena, which eventually shortened to Thorn.

Alyrra’s transformation from princess to goose girl seemed natural, due to her demure personality, her desire to not participate in court life, and her wish to live a life that is her own. The most exciting aspect of the story was watching Alyrra grow and realize that she wants her position as princess back and fights for it.

By the end of the novel I was excited for how soft and yet strong Alyrra becomes. She is a heroine that I would like my future daughters to have as a role model. Alyrra’s not a swashbuckling heroine who gains physical fighting skills to defeat her foes, but a young woman who sharpens her unique strengths to overcome difficulties: her wits, her powers of speech, her kindness and warmth toward the people around her, and innate sense of justice. I was proud that she fought for her prince in her gentile yet strong manner, she trusted him to be a good person, and he too fought for the goodness in his own heart.

I found the end of the story quite powerful and neither Alyrra nor Kestrin walked away unscarred from their experience. My only disappointment was that I didn’t get my kiss at the end of the story, but there was a great bollywood moment where I was left feeling happy as if they had.


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