Rowan used to enjoy her life, back when her family still lived in the city and not in the isolated village they’re in now. Her mother may have grown up here, but her death marked the beginning of the end of their fortune, making it all the worse that Rowan, her father, and sisters are all stuck in the cottage that the creditors never knew about. Even worse, as the eldest daughter, Rowan is a bargaining chip for her father, so she’s unhappily betrothed to Avery, a decent enough guy from a good local family.
When her father goes on a hunting trip with Avery’s family, she asks for a rose she can plant, like those her mother grew in the city. Everything changes for Rowan when he comes back with a white rose because it comes at a price they could never have imagined.
The Huntress is the stuff of village legend, ruling the mountains with her pack of hunting animals in perpetual winter, cursed to be alone until the day she learns what love is—and even that will come with a terrible condition. When one of her roses is stolen, she comes to collect on the debt, stealing Rowan away to her isolated castle.
Rowan doesn’t know what to make of the castle, its mistress, or the animals that keep her company. And while she misses her family, she soon makes her peace with her current life and starts to care for the Huntress. But can love work with someone who’s been cursed? How can it not, when Rowan can’t do anything but love her?
The fairy tale we’ve been waiting for
Tara: I don’t know about you, Victoria, but I’ve been dying for a lesbian fairytale retelling that feels like a fairytale. And, holy hell, does Anna Burke ever deliver with Thorn.
There are a lot of contemporary fairy tale retellings, many of which are excellent. Thorn, however, takes the core of the Beauty and the Beast story and reinterprets it in a way that maintains some of the spirit of the original story while presenting something entirely new.
Rowan doesn’t experience the opulence that Belle does (and there are definitely no dancing teacups) and instead learns how to survive the winter like the Huntress does. Long used to being alone, the Huntress is almost as wild as the animals around her, and it’s amazing to watch her transformation thanks to her relationship with Rowan.
Victoria: I so agree, Tara. I love that this is a lesbian retelling of the classic, but for me it’s got the added bonus of having two main characters who are both wonderfully self-aware. Rowan recognizes that she will never be happy in the small village her family has escaped to. It’s not that she wants a better life. Rather, she wants an authentic life. The Huntress has been imprisoned by a curse that has left her isolated and trapped by regrets of her own making. As the years go by, her human qualities have fallen by the wayside, leaving her to become more like the animals she hunts and lives with. The Huntress reaches a point of resignation, even acceptance of her fate.
Both characters are exquisite in their imperfections. For me, the story isn’t about how Rowan’s presence transforms the Huntress, but rather how Rowan’s involvement in the Huntress’s world allows both women to begin a new journey of self-discovery.
It’s beautifully written
Tara: The writing is positively gorgeous in this book. I found myself putting my Kindle down and walking away for a little while because I needed to simply savour what I’d been reading.
The structure is also interesting and works very well. The book is mostly told in the first person from Rowan’s perspective, so we see and feel everything she experiences. At the end of most chapters, we get a short scene from the Huntress’s perspective, told in the third person. This adds an interesting dimension to the story because we see her inner landscape, even if it’s in smaller pieces than what we might get from Rowan. This includes the effects of the curse on her and how much she changes from the beginning of the book to the end.
Victoria: Tara, Tara, Tara! My Kindle is packed with highlighted portions of this book because it is written so darn beautifully. Like you, there were times I stopped reading and muttered a faint, “Wow.” The prose Burke uses throughout this book is beyond lush. It’s one thing to describe the world of Thorn as “cold”. The descriptive passages are so rich that I was chilled to the bone. I could hear the arctic wind blowing down the mountain, feel the crunch of snow below my feet, and smell the pungent earth just below the frost.
The difference between Rowan’s voice and The Huntress’s helped give this novel a wonderfully classical tone. When we get glimpses of the story told from The Huntress’s point of view, I felt like I was hearing the words from Winter herself, they are so hypnotic.
Passion runs deep in this one
Tara: Okay, so I added the romance tag to this, but it isn’t a typical romance novel. It’s really is more of a fairy tale with a love story woven into its heart. And even though I thought I knew how it was going to end, I was only partly right and I’m so glad I was. It’s not often that an author surprises me, but Burke totally did, with an ending that left me thinking. If you’re into love stories that are kind of complicated, you’ll probably adore this one.
Victoria: This is the type of love story that I relish reading. It’s so atypical for a romance and I can’t get enough of this angsty style. And you’re right, Tara, I thought I knew how it was going to end, too. But Burke gave the tale its own distinctive spin and I read the last chapter several times to let its beautiful complexity sink in. You don’t run into this type of love story all the time and if you are looking for something that is going to stick with you long after you’ve finished it then Thorn might be just what you are looking for.
Tara: Mark my words, Anna Burke is going to go down as one of the best talents of our literature. A part of me can’t believe this is the same author who wrote about lesbian pirates in a dystopian future, and yet I’m also not surprised at all because she’s that good. Her prose is exquisite, her characters are memorable, and her worlds are as enthralling as they are dangerous. I, for one, will be keeping a keen out for her next book, because she just cemented a spot on my auto-buy author list with Thorn.
Victoria: After I read Anna Burke’s first novel, Compass Rose, I knew I had stumbled upon a uniquely talented author and I couldn’t wait to read her second offering. I was also dreading it a little, too. I thought, “How could anything live up to her debut?” Well, I need not have worried.
Burke’s talent is boundless. Her eloquent imagery at times almost brought me to tears and her character work is untouchable. She was able to breathe new life into this familiar tale and make it completely her own. I can’t wait for her next novel as well (and the one after that, and the one after that, etc.). Tara, I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to order coffee mugs with “I ❤️Anna Burke” on them.
Tara: Yeah, send one to me too!
Excerpt from Thorn by Anna Burke
“Where is it,” the woman said. It was not a question. She examined each of us in turn, and when her eyes fell on me at last, a thrill went through me.
“Where is what?” I asked, my words little more than a whisper.
She was at the table in a single stride, plucking the rose out from the ice as easily as if it had been water. Maybe it was water. Maybe the ice was in my eyes, or in my veins, and the rose was just a rose and none of this was happening.
“A rose for a rose, a thorn for a thorn.” When none of us spoke or asked for clarification, she took a step toward me. “You,” she said, and her voice, at least, was human.
“No.” The word ripped from my father’s throat with such violence that I thought I might see blood on his lips.
“These are your daughters?” the woman asked. When my father did not respond, she took a step closer. “When you trespassed on my land, hunting down my kin, I greeted you with more courtesy than you deserved. Put down your sword, old man.”
The blade fell from my father’s hands, whether of his own free will or by the force of her suggestion.
“Please, take me instead,” he begged, falling to his knees in supplication.
“You took a rose from my garden. Now I shall take one from yours.”
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781612941431
- Publisher: Bywater Books
- Anna Burke online
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