I adored Intisar Khanani’s Thorn, a whip-smart retelling of ‘The Goose Girl’ (see my review here!) and this bonus novelette is a perfect addition that gives you a glimpse into the main character’s history.
Book: Brambles by Intisar Khanani
Read before: No
Publication date: 7th December 2020
Ownership: E-ARC sent free of charge by author. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: Mentions of physical abuse by sibling (not graphic) and emotional abuse by parent.
The main character of Thorn, Alyrra, is a princess who is an outcast among her family and court. It’s hinted that there was some terrible incident that earned her this hatred, but we never find out what it is – until now. Brambles is set years before Thorn, and shows us the moment that changed everything for Alyrra. It would be a great introduction to the world if you wanted to read it before Thorn, but it’s also very enjoyable to read as a flashback!
It’s hard to believe this is only 40 pages long, for the amount of character work and worldbuilding it packs in! Within a few sentences I was sucked back into the world – Alyrra has a really compelling voice, full of personality, and I loved slipping back into her point of view. She’s much younger here, only twelve, but that doesn’t mean the book has made a move to middle grade; though Alyrra feels genuinely younger in her voice and outlook, the darkness that underlay Thorn is clear in Brambles too. Central to the story are the beginnings of the bullying Alyrra undergoes throughout her teens at the hands of her brother and Valka, his betrothed, and of course the incident that made this ramp up into full-scale physical and emotional abuse, but there’s also space to discuss issues of class and the arrogance of aristocracy, a theme which runs deeply throughout Thorn as well. We also get to see the first stirrings of magic! It’s so rich for its length, and really feels like a great addition to Alyrra’s story.
If you’re a fan of Thorn, this is simply a book you have to read! It’s really reminded me how much I love Khanani’s writing and the way she handles issues so deftly while still keeping a really interesting fantasy going, and it’s got me all fired up for The Theft of Sunlight, which is a companion novel to Thorn coming next year. Five out of five cats!