I have been eagerly awaiting this book for two years. In 2017, shortly after I bought Thorn, it was purchased by Harper Teen. In the past two years, Intisar Khanani has reworked the book and it will be re-published soon. I hope it is wildly successful and makes Khanani buckets of money. I love the way she writes, builds worlds and creates characters. I opted not to reread the older version of thorn, so I don’t know exactly what she’s changed. I received this arc from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
Thorn is a retelling of The Goose Girl. In The Brothers Grimm fairytale, a princess is sent to be a bride in a distant kingdom. Her evil maid refuses to be her servant any longer and forces her to switch places. The princess has a talking horse who the evil maid has killed. The princess is forced to work as a goose girl and talks to the dead horse’s head. The false princess is revealed and is put to death. The true princess is given her rightful place as ruler. Khanani, of course, is less interested in the right to rule by birth, and more interested in justice and choices.
Princess Alyrra is not a well loved princess. She is thought weak by her mother and is physically and emotionally abused by her brother. She has become friends with the servants who help her avoid her brother. A few years earlier she had defended a maid against a false accusation of theft and revealed Valka, the daughter of an aristocrat, as the culprit. In doing so she made enemies at court. As in The Goose Girl, Alyrra is on her way to be a bride to an unseen prince. Her family sends Valka with her so that Alyrra can find her a husband. It is Valka who forces the body switch, not an evil servant, but a privileged woman already willing to abuse her power.
Instead of passively wailing about the injustice done to her, Alyrra sees an opportunity to escape her life. She asks to be called Thoreena, which gets shortened to Thorn. Because she has suffered abuse at the hands of her brother and the disdain of her mother’s court, she does not trust the good intentions of the Prince to whom she was betrothed. She is happy to be a goose girl and quickly makes friends with the hostlers. As in The Goose Girl, there is a talking horse named Falada. Falada acts her conscience, reminding Thorn that Valka can do a lot of damage as a Princess and future queen.
“Perhaps,” Falada muses. “Perhaps they were looking for someone whom they could trust, someone who would accept their authority and be grateful for their continued protection.”“Maybe they wanted a princess whom no one would miss if she were to get killed,” I say, the words breaking from me on a tide of bitterness.Falada does not respond immediately. When he does, it is to ask, “What would you have given to be valued and protected?”I pause, staring at the ground. I wish that I could lie to him. “A lot,” I say roughly.“Your loyalty?” I don’t look up, but I know he is right. Perhaps Falada can see the truth of it written on my face, for he says gently, “Ah, child, I begin to see why you prefer the life you are making for yourself.”
Intisar Khanani has written a richly layered tapestry of a book. Along with a compelling story, there is a lot for the reader to consider. Khanani weaves the long memory of cruelty and the balm of kindness with ideas about justice, compassion, and structural indifference. Thorn struggles with her desire to be free of courtly life and politics versus her responsibility to act on the knowledge that she has of coming harm. Thorn was already well aware that justice is reserved for the rich and powerful, but living as a goose girl she experiences the complexity of that reality even in a kingdom with a “good” king. She grows from an understandably passive, if good person, to a woman who understands her power, how to use it, and it’s limitations. The end of Thorn leaves the reader with hope, but without neat answers.
I loved this book, and for a smart reader it will be a joy. I feel like I have barely skimmed the surface of Thorn.
Content warning for trauma, grief, physical abuse, gendered violence, the aftermath of a rape, death, off page death of an animal, public execution.