Thorn

thornThe Goose Girl is a character from Grimm, of course, and she’s unfortunate (also of course.) She’s a princess riding her talking horse on her way to meet her prince when her maid forces her to switch places and threatens to kill her if she ever tells the truth. The maid has the horse killed for fear it will talk, the princess is banished to the status of goose-girl, and you’d think that would be the end of the story — but magic winds and natural justice intervene, and in fact the goose-girl winds up with her royal prince after all, and the wicked maid with her punishment.

Thorn, by Intisar Khanani, is broadly a retelling of this fairy tale. There’s the switch between Princess Alyrra and her vicious maid Valka, the beloved talking horse Falada, the dire threat, the magic wind, and the intense focus on justice. But the fairy tale is a skeleton for a broader, richer, more interesting book, one that explores the power differential between rich and poor; one that asks how a goose-girl can love a prince (and vice versa) if there will always be obligation between them; one that demands equal justice for kings and hostlers, men and women — and horses.

I enjoyed this book, largely because of the way Khanani works out some of the knotty problems of power. Princess Alyrra’s fellow workers in the stables don’t have access to the same justice that serves the king and nobles, so they seek it elsewhere, among the rough thieves in the city. When Prince Kestrin talks to Alyrra, knowing and not-knowing who she is, she points out to him that his whims convey obligation — one she refuses out of a desire to keep her newfound independence. There’s an antagonist that doesn’t exist in the original fairy tale, a sorceress with complicated motives, which means that Kestrin is both implicated and vindicated. Only his personal actions can prove his worth.

This isn’t a perfect book. There are several plot points that are messy (the use of magic being one of them) and some that are left as loose ends (Alyrra’s relationship with Red Hawk, for instance.) The larger politics — something that doesn’t interest everyone, I know — wasn’t ever very clearly sketched. But Khanani adds some lovely touches to the book: worship in the temple; moments of safety with friends; the choker of fear that comes with the memory of betrayal; the slow development of friendship with someone you never thought you’d trust. The book is worth reading for these alone, and for other things, too.

This entry was posted in Children's / YA Lit, Fiction, Speculative Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Thorn

  1. jenclair says:

    I read this a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. I also read and enjoyed Sunbolt, which I liked even better–except that it was a novella and a cliffhanger! I don’t usually like novellas, but I got so wrapped up in the characters that I could forgive the book being too short.

  2. Sold! I love a Goose Girl retelling, and that cover is too gorgeous to resist. I’m also really enjoying books that interrogate power relationships right now. So this sounds like a winner all round. :)

    • Jenny says:

      It’s pretty good! It’s an obvious debut, but it’s a very nice foreshadowing of other things to come from this author. I liked it quite a bit.

  3. Did you know her new book, a sequel to Sunbolt, is out this May? I’m really looking forward to it! So glad you enjoyed this one!

    • Jenny says:

      I did not know that! I haven’t read Sunbolt, so I’ll have to get hold of that before I read any sequels, though.

  4. P.S. As far as I know all her books are self-pubbed.

    • Jenny says:

      Thanks for that clarification. I really wonder if she might get a wider audience if she found a publisher, don’t you?

  5. I liked Sunbolt a lot, so I really want to read Thorn. My mother and sister read both of Khanani’s books within the past few months and are now huge proponents of her work. I agree with you that there are elements in her books that are still a little rough, but it seems like stuff she’ll grow out of as she writes more and more. I’ll be following her future books with much interest!

    Also, the Goose Girl story is not retold enough. I love that story. It’s so weird.

    • Jenny says:

      It is! So weird! So many fairy tales are weird, even the more modern Hans Christian Andersen-style ones. I love that about them.

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