You ever have those books you put off reading because you know you ought to love them, but you’re worried they can’t possibly live up to your expectations? Sorcery of Thorns was one for me, but I bit the bullet and luckily, was rewarded with something even more perfect for me than I’d hoped!
Book: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
Read before: No
Ownership: Hardback purchased for myself from Mostly Books, but I did also have an E-ARC from NetGalley. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: Blood, blood magic, death of child (discussed), grief, brief depiction of a Victorian-style asylum.
I really loved Margaret Rogerson’s first book, An Enchantment of Ravens, which offered pretty much exactly what I wanted from a Fae romance – I loved the way she wove proper folklore things like fairy politeness and rules into the world-building. So I knew I would be on board for a book centred around magical libraries, but I still wasn’t expecting to fall in love with this book as much as I did! Somehow, though, it managed to pack a whole bunch of my favourite things – fantasy of manners, flirting that’s more or less indistinguishable from bickering, bi rep, even cats! – into a story I found myself engrossed in. There’s even a ball, for goodness’ sake!
This is actually a book of fairly narrow scope, which I think really works for it. We don’t meet an enormous amount of characters, and we don’t see an enormous amount of the world – this keeps things highly character-driven and lets the plot race along nicely. Elisabeth, the protagonist, has had a very sheltered and specific upbringing, so it’s really nice to feel fully in her head as she has to deal with leaving the library where she grew up. Things are a little overwhelming, and that comes across really well. It also allows you as the reader to really soak up the clever magic and the atmosphere of the world – the prose is a little flowery, but it all works in the semi-Victorian context. I loved the concept of the Great Libraries and the grimoires, with their individual powers and personalities, plus the way that demons, who provide the magic that sorcerers use, are a necessary but distasteful part of upper class society.
Elisabeth strikes a good balance between capable, special, and woefully naive, and it’s really easy to end up rooting for her. Her love interest, Nathaniel, is a great verbal sparring partner for her, and a perfect addition to the eligible bachelor list of hot, tall, snarky sorcerers (what do you mean you don’t have a list?). I’m a real sucker for chemistry as expressed through sniping at each other (until it’s crunch time and suddenly ‘you nearly got yourself killed, idiot’ has an unspoken ‘and that would be terrible’ after it), so I loved their romance. Their character arcs are separately great too, though obviously I can’t say too much. I actually don’t think there was a single side character I didn’t love, from wardrobe-obsessed valet/demon Silas to Elisabeth’s nerdy but trouble-making best friend Katrien – and there’s a cat! Plus, there’s on-page ace/aro and bi rep (yep, if Nathaniel wasn’t perfect enough, he’s also openly bi and it leads to some of the most adorably awkward dialogue!).
My one complaint would be that there is absolutely nothing tying this book to the YA age limits it has imposed on the characters. Elisabeth is 16, and Nathaniel 18, and I would have believed you if you’d told me they were both ten years older. Neither acts like a teenager, which personally, I didn’t mind at all, but given the recent discussions around fantasy with characters in their twenties, I feel like this would have been the perfect fit! Still, their ages aren’t made an enormous amount of, so you can do as I did and just imagine them a bit older if that works for you… It feels like it inhabits a similar niche to Stephanie Burgis’s Snowspelled or Charlie N Holmberg’s The Paper Magician – romantic fantasy that has crossover YA/adult appeal.
I could go on about this for hours, but I think I’m just going to say that if you like your fantasy smart, romantic, atmospheric, and bookish, you should just pick this up now. It’s utterly wonderful! It was the perfect tonic for someone a bit burned out on samey YA fantasy, because it feels original but comforting at the same time. It’s definitely going on the comfort reads shelf. Obviously it gets five out of five cats!