Sunday 11 April 2021

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Review: Thorn by Intisar Khanani (#Ad)

Thorn by Intisar Khanani

I received this eProof for free from Hot Key Books via NetGalley for the purposes of providing an honest review.

Thorn by Intisar Khanani

Published: 24th March 2020 | Publisher: Hot Key Books | Source: NetGalley
Intisar Khanani's Website

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.
The StoryGraph

Regular readers will know what a huge fan of retellings - especially fairy tale retellings - I am. So when I heard about Thorn by Intisar Khanani, a high fantasy retelling of The Goose Girl by the Brothers Grimm, I was so excited to read it! And it was such an incredible story!

Thorn is an incredibly close retelling of the original story. Everything you would expect from The Goose Girl is there - the arranged marriage to a prince in a distant land, the switch of the princess and a woman lower than her, the charm from her mother, the talking horse, the priness being unable to tell her story, the wind coming to her aid, and so on - Khanani just expands on it, and gives us a full length novel. It's completely recognisable, and it was such a delight! Most retellings these days will have the most important aspects of a fairy tale present, but change everything else, to give you a completely new story. While I do enjoy those kinds of retellings, there's something just so wonderful about the original stories. So when an author like Khanani does take an original fairy tale and lovingly and respectfully builds upon it, while staying so true to the original, it honestly fills me with such joy. The only other retelling I've read that so lovingly handles an original fairy tale is Drown by Esther Dalseno, and it's my most favourite retelling. So it's not difficult to imagine just how much I loved Thorn.

There are those who might think that a novel that sticks so close to the original text isn't a story that would be enjoyable to read, because you already know the story and exactly where it will go. But there's so much more to discover. The original is so short, that it takes a lot of effort to rework it into a full length novel with substance. And it gives khanani the opportuniry to go wild with worldbuilding to give explanations of various aspects of the story. Why does Falada talk? Because he's not your average horse. Why does the Princess allow the switch to take place? Because she has no choice; dangerous magic is involved that physically changes her appearance, and prevents her from ever speaking about it. Why would she accept her place as a goose girl, and not find a way to fight back? Because she is a princess who has been treated dispicably by her own family; who, because of their abuses, believes herself not capable of being the princess people need; because she fears Prince Kestrin and the rumours surrounding him, and fears she will not survive long. In Khanani's hands, there is so much more to this story! It's such a rich and lush tale, with a reason for everything.

What I also love about this story is that it isn't a romance, and how it turns some fairy tale tropes on their head. For the most part, Alyrra enjoys her life as a goose girl. She finds work that fulfills her, friendship and kindness among her fellow animal caretakers. She is, for the most part, happy. But Prince Kestrin is suspicious, and keeps calling her to the palace for questioning. She doesn't want to be discovered, she doesn't want to go back to being the princess, despite the danger to the prince and the royal family, with Valka - the noble woman who the sorceress, known only as Lady, turned into Alyrra, who feels nothing but hate for the real princess - planning to betray the prince for the sorceress. But the more she learns about the prince - how he isn't necessarily someone to fear, that he can be kind - and the more she learns about how the poor suffer, the harder she finds it to turn her back when she knows she, as princess, she could make a difference. That she could, perhaps, save the prince. Thorn is very much a story with morals at it's heart, that asks the question, what choices can you live with? And, while someone may have taken her place, it isn't the princess that needs saving, but the prince himself.

I also really enjoyed the cultural touches to the story. There isn't a massive focus on making the story an overtly non-western high fantasy, but there are definitely elements that point to the fact that it isn't a western. I believe Middle Eastern and Islamic culture inspires Khanani's world building, from the clothes, to some of the words used, to Alyrra's faith, and more, and is also referenced in the gorgeous cover. There are small references here and there that show Thorn to be a diverse retelling.

My only complaint is that I feel there could have been a little bit more to the world building. For example, we find out that the Lady is targetting Prince Kestrin and his family because of X, but we don't really know the reasons behind why X happened in the first place. I feel there was also a lot of potential for court intrigue and politics, in some ways. I can't say too much without spoiling the story, but with the people Alyrra meets as Thorn, the things she experiences, the connections she makes, the way the monarchy is failing it's people, I just would have loved to have seen Alyrra take what she knows and has learnt and get involved in the politics of this world. A bit difficult when she's just a goose girl, but I do wish we could have seen where those elements took her. This side of things will probably be more prominent in the second book in The Dauntless Path series, The Theft of Sunlight, but that won't be from Alyrra's perspective. So there's an aspect of disappointment there, but I am super excited to see where the story goes next, because it's far from over.

Overall, an absolutely fantastic retelling, and one I know will become a firm favourite of mine for the care and craft Khanani put into this gorgeous story! I'm so looking forward to reading more of her work.

Thank you to Hot Key Books via NetGalley for the eProof.

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