Thorn is a twisting, captivating tale of power, deception and identity. The reader meets Princess Alyrra, a teenager with a heart that yearns for friendship, love and freedom beyond the cold clutches of her royal upbringing. After becoming betrothed to a prince in a neighbouring kingdom, she becomes entwined in a feud between her new family and an all-powerful sorceress. With this, comes a curse that offers the Princess a different life way of life. Alyrra must decide whether to live it or regain the one that she was given.
Alyrra’s journey is one of growth: in confidence, power and knowledge, both of herself and her role in society. The Princess’s first-person perspective offers the reader a similar closeness to that of a companion. We get to listen to her inner thoughts whilst every other character is shielded from her true identity. This is a personal reading experience and one that embroils us in the political chess board of the plot. We share her uncertainty and vulnerability as various powers toy with her livelihood and try to take control away from her. Coupled with the mysterious tendrils of magical realism, this makes for a thrilling and intense read.
With roots in The Goose Girl by the Brothers Grimm, Khanani takes threads from the original tale to build a philosophical story that questions the concept of wealth within society. Coming from privileged beginnings, Alyrra has known material wealth, but it is human connection and acts of kindness that give her wings. Her bildungsroman has a lot to say about how highly society values friendship, community and belonging. This is not without any conflict regarding whether a fulfilled heart can ever overpower riches or authority. To me, the beauty in Khanani’s narrative lies in her ability to examine tensions within social class, told through the eyes of a character that lives two different lives, as a princess and a peasant. Whilst set in a feudal society of kings and queens, there is much for the reader to take from this in the world that we currently live in.
Some more mature themes and aspects of violence within the story make this novel more suitable to a reader aged 14+. Khanani does not shy away from the brutality of corporal punishment. She confronts characters and readers with the reality of retributive justice, whether this provides the satisfaction that they longed for or not. The complexities within these events stimulate many opportunities for moral debate, and, critically, open the space to develop empathy towards individuals who may have done wrong. Thorn is a story that evokes a great deal of reflection; it challenges readers to look inwardly and outwardly upon how different members of society are valued, and that is a gift in itself.
Another Brother’s Grimm retelling with strong female characters reviewed here is The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton and illustrated by Angela Barrett
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