The Thorn and The Blossom is a novella by Theodora Goss which uses the tale of Gawain the Green Knight from Arthurian legend as a point of departure. Goss takes the legend, updates it to the modern age and provides her readers with a charming love story told from two perspectives. The Thorn and The Blossom is the story of Evelyn Morgan and Brendan Thorne, and it is the story of Gawan, Queen Elowen, the sorceress Morva and the thousand year curse.
The reader can begin with either Evelyn’s story or Brendan’s. I started with Evelyn’s because that’s where my Kindle version began. Evelyn is a college student finishing up a study abroad at Oxford. For her final week in England, she decides to go to Cornwall, which is where her family’s roots are. Evelyn is studying literature and is a poet, but she has recently been told by a professor that her works — with faeries and such — are “fanciful nonsense.” Her parents tend to agree and wish she would just go to law school already and follow in her father’s footsteps. We also learn that Evelyn has been prone to “incidents” since her childhood, in which she sees faeries, gnomes and other such creatures. Medicated under a doctor’s care, Evelyn’s episodes have abated but her interests in medieval literature and tales of the Green Knight have not. While visiting the small Cornish town of Clews, Evelyn meets the son of the local book seller, Brendan Thorne. They take an immediate liking to each other, and it turns out Brendan knows quite a lot about the Cornish legend of Gawan (Gawain) and the Queen Elowen. According to the local legend, they fought and vanquished giants, and the “evidence” of this having happened in Clews is the presence of the large boulders up at Gawan’s Court. Brendan takes Evelyn on a tour and they share their mutual interest in the legend. We also learn that according to the legend, the sorceress Morva was jealous of the love between Gawan and Elowen and placed a curse on them, that the lovers would be separated for a thousand years. While walking through the woods, Evelyn suffers one of her “episodes” seeing Brendan turn into a green-leaf-armored Gawan, and runs away from Brendan in a panic. She immediately takes off for home, and fast forward a decade, she gets a PhD in medieval studies and a job at a college in Virginia. As it turns out, Brendan Thorne is also a professor there. When it looks like their romance is about to take off again, Evelyn learns a secret about Brendan’s past, suffers another episode and bolts. This time Brendan runs away as well, and Evelyn eventually must make a decision about her future and what she wants for herself.
Brendan’s story follows the exact same events from his point of view. We learn that Brendan was not honest with Evelyn about himself but was about to come clean when she ran from him in the forest. We learn about Brendan’s academic interests, his disappointments and his relationship with a woman named Isabel. Like Evelyn, after his time at the college in Virginia, he must make decisions about his future and what he wants for himself. While Goss does not spell out everything that is going to happen for these star crossed lovers, she also doesn’t really need to. It would be easy to see Brendan and Evelyn as stand ins for Gawan and Elowen, and I am sure we are meant to do so, but the story is delightful on its own as a story of two people who seem meant for each other but face numerous obstacles to getting together: parental expectations, professional disappointments, health issues, and conflicting relationships, to name a few. I found the resolution to the story to be quite charming without becoming saccharine, as it very easily could have done. I think this is a nice little story to read if you like a bit of romance and need something to lift your spirits up a bit.