Book Review: Thorn by Intisar Khanani

The artist is Jenny from Seedlings Design

I stumbled across Thorn on Goodreads and the gorgeous cover art caught my eye. When I realized that it was a retelling of The Goose Girl and written by indie author* Intisar Khanani, I purchased a copy. 

The cover is even more beautiful up close. However, like the best fairytales, the beauty of Thorn isn’t just skin deep.

Princess Alyrra is the ignored and neglected princess of a backwater kingdom. Her only friends are the servants and a playful wind. Still, she is content enough until the powerful neighboring King of Menaiya shows up with a startling proposition: he intends to bring Alyrra home as a bride for his son Kestrin.

Alyrra has no idea why a powerful prince would want someone like her for a bride, but it doesn’t matter, as she has no choice. Or so she thinks. When a sudden betrayal turns Alyrra’s life inside out, the princess must choose between doing (what seems like) the right thing, or pursuing the life she makes for herself.

Thorn is a beautifully written book, and a thoughtful take on The Goose Girl. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but if you’ve read the original fairytale, you should be familiar with the basic plot. There was so much I enjoyed about it, but here’s a quick 5 reasons you should buy a copy:

1. Alyrra was very different from your average YA fairytale heroine. Accustomed to both abuse and hard work, she relishes the position of a lowly goose girl. The hard work is fulfilling to her, and she has chosen it for herself, which makes it better than her life as a “useless” princess. Her character arc and development was logical and well done, and I love how her hidden strengths bloomed and truly made an impact on the plot.

2. The “romance,” is much more mature and believable than most YA novels. Kestrin and Alyrra’s relationship was slow-burning, and fraught with (understandable) conflict and deception. Where it ends, in particular, was realistic and a bit messy, not tied in a perfect bow, and it made a lot of sense.

3. The writing. I cannot say this strongly enough: Intisar Khanani has a gift for language. Her prose is elegant and descriptive without being flowery. It immerses you in her world.

4. The serious plot elements are well-handled and thought out, not just thrown in for pathos or shock value. Some truly terrible things happen to these characters! Khanani touches on topics from physical abuse to murder, The characters have to deal with these things, and they retain both baggage and scars that influence them and those around them.

5. The characters. Even the “villains” were nuanced, with histories and motives that helped you understand them, even if they deserved their fates. Characters grew, changed, and had to deal with real consequences from both action and inaction. Kestrin was an interesting foil for Alyrra, and a complicated character in his own right. However, none of the characters were just throwaway or fillers.

I only had one real complaint: It was too short! I would have loved to read more about this world and its people, and I want to know more about the mentioned Fair Folk. There were so many elements hinted at in the story that, while not bearing on the plot, intrigued me.

In summary: 4.5 out of 5 stars. This was a brilliant Goose Girl retelling from an author to watch. I will definitely be reading her other books.

Have I convinced you yet? Here is a link to her books so you know where to buy them. I ordered mine through the indie bookstore store where I work (and I plan on stocking a copy). Have you discovered any fabulous indie authors that we should check out? Sound off in the comments.

Footnotes:
*Thorn was self-published. I don’t just buy any book, self-published or otherwise, but I strongly believe in supporting the brave, independent people who take their own path. On top of that, this book is very good, which makes it even more deserving.