Combining the sorcery of The Night Circus with the malefic suspense of A Secret History, Thorn Jack is a spectacular, modern retelling of the ancient Scottish ballad, Tam Lin—a beguiling fusion of love, fantasy, and myth that echoes the imaginative artistry of the works of Neil Gaiman, Cassandra Clare, and Melissa Marr.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but I was intrigued enough when I saw the cover and read the blurb to pick it up at the library along with the next book in the series. I’ve read my share of books about vampires, angels and demons among other things, though not recently, so it was a nice change to get drawn into that world again. I guess technically this is considered Young Adult, as its main characters are all in first year college, however, that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. In some ways, this book calls to mind Twilight (thankfully much better than wimpy Bella and Edward) and Harry Potter (these kids don’t have magical abilities) but it has unique characteristics that make it different.
Serafina (Finn) Sullivan and her father have moved to his home town of Fair Hollow, NY after the suicide death of her older sister Lily Rose. Her mother had passed away several years prior to that, so she and her father are doing their best to move on with life. He has a new teaching position at St. John University, but Finn has enrolled in Hallowheart college to give them some separation. Finn is quickly befriended by Christie (a guy who lives close by with a large family that is really never mentioned again) and Sylvie, and the three of them form a solid trio against the weirdness they encounter.
There are a lot of mysterious goings on in the town, which is filled with abandoned mansions; Ms Harbour does a wonderful job of evoking the surreal unearthliness of the town and its inhabitants. One of the most compelling guys Finn meets is Jack Fata, a member of the wealthiest family in town – they’re known for throwing lavish otherworldy parties as well as being fabulously gorgeous and slightly malevolent. Jack is characterized as the bad boy who is interested in Finn, but there’s just something very strange about him that she can’t figure out. What is he exactly…vampire? demon? fae prince?
It’s hard to describe much more without giving it all away! There are some minor nits to pick with it in that these characters all seemed to be more suited to high school than college, and the parents seem to be rather absent from the picture. There are several references to the scent that Jack brings with him whenever he enters the room, which seemed redundant after the first couple of mentions. The story unfolds over a short time leading up to Halloween, so the romance aspect seems really rushed, more like puppy love than anything lasting. I’m not familiar with the ballad on which this is based, so I can’t say if it’s good in that regard. Still and all, there’s enough twists and turns to keep a reader guessing, and while some things could use polishing (this is Ms Harbour’s first book published), I was entertained and am ready to dive into book two!
Note: there is a typo in the edition of the book I read which makes for some confusion. This is the author’s observation on that: There was a character named Jane Ivy, whose name was changed at the last minute to Jane Emory. Unfortunately, whoever did the corrections at the publisher simply autocorrected ‘ivy’ to ‘Emory’. The paperback version of Thorn Jack and any ebook versions will be corrected. There are several references to Emory covered items, which made no sense until I discovered the reason. You’d think a publishing company would know better than to use auto correct in that manner!