Originally self-published in 2012, Thorn has been re-released under HarperTeen, and as such, this is a review of the 2020 edition.
Disclaimers for the novel: Physical and emotional abuse, mention of animal death, mention of sexual assault.
Alyrra is a princess in name alone. Her family despises her, she is friendless in her own kingdom, and she prefers to spend her time in the kitchens than at banquets.
When her mother decides to ship her off to be married to a prince from the neighboring kingdom, Alyrra is wary, knowing that being royalty doesn’t guarantee safety or happiness. Even worse, she’s accompanied by Valka, who hates her, and certainly cannot be trusted.
During the journey, Alyrra encounters a powerful enemy of the prince’s family. She puts Valka and Alyrra under a powerful spell, hoping to use the girls to get revenge on the royal family. Once they arrive at the palace, Alyrra is relegated to the lowly position of goose girl, and she is moved off the property to live in the fields with the other workers.
Unbeknownst to her tormentor, Alyrra enjoys her new life far from her abusive brother and is content with her newfound friendships. Yet, that peace comes at the price of ignoring the world around her, be that the prince, who she knows is in danger, or the townsfolk, who are oppressed by an out of touch nobility that doesn’t care if the people starve. While all this is happening, Alyrra also must contend with her past. The trauma of the abuse from her brother impacts her daily life, causing her to devalue herself and mistrust the prince to whom she was meant to wed.
Kestrin, Alyrra’s prospective love interest and her betrothed, is a character we don’t get much information on. However, their developing relationship helps to reveal more of Alyrra’s character and is a cure for the reader who is sick of insta-love. While there is the barest hint of romance in Thorn, which will likely be expanded upon in the later books, the novel is more about Alyrra learning to love herself.
Alyrra is a truly wonderful character to read. In the beginning, I was wary, as she screamed Mary Sue to me, if only because despite that she’s incredibly sweet, everyone seems to hate her for no apparent reason. However, I grew to enjoy her character as I saw how introspective she could be, and how she was influenced by the trauma she experienced and ultimately learned to deal with it in a way that helped her to gain strength. It wasn’t often that I felt she was looking for pity, which made me like her that much more. In audiobook form, Alyrra’s perspective is sympathetically narrated by Shiromi Arserio, who brings her to life.
The element of the book I was least aware of, which was actually quite interesting to read about after the fact, was the author’s dedication to the initial tale. As a retelling of the Brothers Grimm’s The Goose Girl, the book included the magic wind, the talking horse, and many of the major plot events that the original had. What’s truly impressive is that the author took the original fable and created her own moral arc based upon the question of justice, and what that looks like, an idea the protagonist struggles with throughout the novel.
Along that same vein, what I liked most about Thorn was that it touched many issues that plague our world today, such as poverty and violence against women, and dealt with them with care, just as the author did with Alyrra’s character. In fact, many of the characters were fairly fleshed out, even the villain, who ended up redeemed in a way uncommon in many novels.
Author Intisar Khanani’s reworked debut Thorn is a quiet, mystical, and in the end, a shatteringly beautiful account of a young woman’s path to claiming her place in a broken world and vowing to do what she can to change it.