The Thorn Queen is a gorgeous MG fantasy that caught my eye while browsing on NetGalley. Just look at that cover! While I was expecting something castle-based and possibly Sleeping Beauty related, what I got was entirely different: an introduction to a really cool magical land, and an action-packed quest with a great heroine!
Book: The Thorn Queen by Elise Holland
Read before? No
Ownership: E-ARC provided by NetGalley for fair review.
This book opens with our protagonist Meylyne up a tree, breaking rules – this is a good sign straight away that she’s going to be my type of heroine! She is soon forced to go on a magical quest to find a cure for the prince’s illness, but on her adventures she discovers that she’s actually instrumental to saving the world. She meets all kind of strange magical people along the way, including an ogre, a society of lion-folk, and a sentient tree, and she discovers that embracing her true self is an important part of being a hero.
Meylyne is a very enjoyable heroine. She’s headstrong and brave, but she’s also desperate for her mother’s approval, and really, really insecure about her half-human, half-garlysle heritage. Watching her grow in confidence made really good reading. I also really liked Hope, the stalliynx, which is a sort of a horse-lion cross which doesn’t really use verbs. His matter-of-fact nature and the way he spoke really reminded me of Appa from Kim’s Convenience, actually, which made for a hilarious picture.
This is a complex world, with many creatures and objects that are not easily understandable at first glance, particularly because the author throws consonants together like fruit salad without regard for pronunciation – I could definitely have used a glossary, and I would hate to have to read this out loud! You’re thrown straight into a world of humans and garslochs and garlysles and snake people which isn’t easy to grasp immediately. As far as I can tell these creatures are entirely unique to this work, rather than lifted from folklore, so I didn’t have reference points for them and could have used a bit more time to have them introduced. There also seems to be some kind of link to our world. One character seems to have been transported from our world, and also, even the people who are native to this world explicitly speak English? Like, not in a ‘the common tongue is rendered as English for the sake of the reader’ way, but literally: one character asks another character to speak English rather than lion.
There’s plenty of excitement and action as Meylyne and her companions travel across the land, and it’s easy to get caught up in their journey, especially when twists begin to happen and Meylyne begins to question everything she knows. Unfortunately, looking at the storyline on a larger scale, Holland seems to pick up and drop plot-points as they are needed, without necessarily resolving them, so Prince Piam’s mysterious illness is not solved, and nothing is ever done about Blue’s lost memory. The entire end of the book becomes about defeating the Thorn Queen, which is thrilling for sure, but kind of doesn’t have much to do with the original plot. As I say, it’s very fast-paced and entertaining to read, but as a whole it’s disjointed and the happy ending is pretty abrupt. There were SO many elements of this that I wish had been dwelt on longer!
I think I would have liked to see this story expanded over several books, which would have given each development an appropriate amount of time to occur, and would perhaps have brought Meylyne’s personal journey to the fore. The poor girl is barely given time to react to anything, and I certainly could have seen her being a much better character in a slower, more emotional, Tamora Pierce-y series. That being said, this is enormous fun to read. I think it just makes it to four cats!