Thorn by Intisar Khanani

3 / 5 stars
Read in January 2021
Book #1 in the Dauntless Path series

The beginning of this book started off so well that I was sure I was going to fall in love with it. Yes, it was a bit slow at first, but it also introduced a heroine I could root for, intriguing side characters, and a unique world and magic system. I couldn’t wait to see how it all unfolded.

Thorn is a retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairytale “The Goose Girl”. In this version, Princess Alyrra is sent to marry a prince in a distant land, and while she’s happy to leave her abusive mother and brother behind, she worries about her new life in this foreign kingdom. When her conniving maid works with a dark sorceress to switch bodies with Alyrra during their journey, Alyrra sees her new role as a goose girl as an opportunity to start a different life. However, when it becomes clear that her maid will sacrifice anything to the sorceress to maintain her status and power, even the prince to whom Alyrra was once betrothed, Alyrra must choose between the new life she’s grown to love and the difficult one she left behind.

There were many twists and turns in this book that I didn’t see coming, so they really pulled at my heartstrings; that being said, I wasn’t familiar with “The Goose Girl” before reading this, so if you do know it you will likely see some of these twists coming. Still, there are other twists that aren’t related to the original story, so whether you know the fairytale or not you’ll still find elements that keep you on your toes.

From 1st person POV, I really liked Alyrra as a heroine and the opportunity to be in her head. I think most people can relate to the idea of struggling to do what’s right in the face of fear, or taking a risk even if they feel they’re not ready or strong enough. This story is definitely character driven, and it was a pleasure watching Alyrra’s character arc play out from beginning to end.

I will echo some of the other reviews in saying the overall plot and pacing often felt like a winding road. Many subplots were introduced throughout the story, and while at times this kept things interesting, overall it meandered too much. Certain elements that were crucial to the mainframe of the story would be ignored in lieu of another subplot, ultimately lowering the stakes around the central conflict. The book snaked down these side paths, some of which felt unnecessary or overdramatic, just long enough to develop Alyrra’s character before zigzagging back to the main road. This got old by the end of the book and weakened the impact of the story threads and even the romance (which is not a slow burn, no matter what other reviews say…it only feels slow because it’s practically forgotten at certain points). This is ultimately what led to my rating this book 3 stars instead of 4 or 5.

Overall, Intisar Khanani is a talented storyteller. At times, I was swept up in Alyrra’s whimsical yet dark world, coming to care for her friends and agonizing as she did over the difficult decision she had to make. And while I did not appreciate this retelling as much as I hoped, you might find that you really enjoy it, so give it a try. I can’t wait to see how the characters and conflicts from this story are woven into book #2!

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