Reviews · Summaries

Thorn by Intisar Khanani (Book 1)

# of Pages: 495

Time it took me to read: 4 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 71

Rating: 4 out of 5

Princess Alyrra has never fit in at home. So when the opportunity to marry the crown prince of a neighboring country arises, she sees no reason to refuse, despite never having met the prince before and having no desire to be a queen. This move will allow her to escape the cruel hand of her brother and the cool disapproval of her mother, though she’ll have to leave behind everything she’s ever known for a land where she doesn’t speak the language or understand the people.

However, the royal family of Menaiya has problems on their own. On her way to Menaiya ahead of her wedding, she is attacked by a terrifying sorceress who swaps her body with that of her traveling companion when Alyrra refuses to betray her betrothed to the sorceress. Trapped in a skin that is not hers and unable to speak about it, she finds that though everything has been taken from her, this might just be the opportunity to escape the pressures of court that she never wanted. Assigned to the stables as a goose girl, Alyrra settles quickly and happily into her new life. But the sorceress will not stop until she has the prince in her grasp. Can Alyrra, who is known to all simply as a goose girl named Thorn, be able to stop the sorceress before she ends the royal line of Menaiya once and for all?

Review:

This book was given as a birthday gift to me this summer (thank you Dani!), and I’m finally getting around to reading it. I believed it to be a standalone novel when I started it, which is always going to affect the way that I think about the book as I’m reading it. I found it to have a slow and dense start, which concerned me a bit because even though the book is long at nearly 500 pages, standalone novels can hardly drag their feet with the setup. It’s such a bummer when the buildup in a standalone isn’t worth the payoff at the end (see my previous entry for an example).

However, about midway through I found out that this was the first of a trilogy that is still being rolled out, and that really lightened my expectations for this story. A book is allowed to have the fist half be setup if it’s the first in a series.

With that in mind, the second half of the story captured me a whole lot more now that I understood I wasn’t going to be getting a full payoff by the end of this story. I really enjoyed the story of Alyrra, who has a miserable time being princess in her own kingdom, and though isn’t pleased that her life is ripped away from her, she eagerly and genuinely throws herself into her new life as a nobody, a goose girl the locals call Thorn. She learns their language and makes her own family among the hostlers at the stables. I felt like her arc was unique and thoughtful. She is really the only one who can save the prince, Kestrin, from the sorceress, though it would mean sacrificing the lovely life she’s built for herself as a goose girl. There is a large and entertaining cast of characters, of all backgrounds, but Alyrra as Thorn seems to draw everyone to her with her kind and hardworking nature.

Despite all the buildup, this first book actually does wrap itself up nicely enough to almost be a standalone. However, there are enough side threads left dangling throughout that I’m excited that there will be more. The antagonist(s) in this story aren’t always what they seem either, and I really enjoyed the twists.

The last thing I’ll say is that this felt like a very Eastern style fantasy to me, which I don’t read as many of, so there was a bit of an adjustment period for me. I’m not really able to fully describe what “Eastern style” entails, any more than I would be able to describe a “Western style”, but the best way I can think to describe it is if you were to sit down to watch a movie only to find out that is is a Bollywood film rather than the usual Hollywood style movie you are used to watching. There is nothing bad about it, it is only different, and it takes a little longer than normal to sink into the story because the style is different than you were expecting and different from the type of film you normally watch. But eventually you get into it and really enjoy the movie. That’s how I felt with this book.

I revoked a star for the slow build up. In my opinion, if a book takes longer than 1/4 of the way to ramp up, there had better be an especially tasty twist or cliff hanger in the climax to pay off for the build. While I genuinely liked the ending of this story, there weren’t quite enough sparks for me at the end to justify the beginning. But that’s just me being nitpicky, I really, genuinely, enjoyed Thorn as a retelling of a classic fairytale and can’t wait for the next installment.

!!!SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Cast:

Alyrra (Thoreena) (Thorn) – Princess of Adania. Upon arriving in Menaiya in the body of Valka, she chooses the name Thoreena for herself to go by. But that name is difficult to say in the native tongue of Menaiya, so most call her Thorn. After suffering years of physical abuse and torture at the hands of her brother while her mother turned a blind eye, Alyrra grateful to have a chance to escape, with the promise of protection, by accepting the betrothal to Kestrin, crown price of Menaiya. When Valka, in the body of the princess, sends Alyrra to be a goose girl upon arrival in Menaiya, Alyrra takes well to working, as she often worked in the kitchens back home. Alyrra is kindhearted and hardworking, though she must grow out of the timidity that her brother worked hard to beat into her.

Kestrin – Crown prince of Menaiya, Kestrin is also secretly a powerful sorcerer like his father. His whole family, going back generations, has been killed by the Lady, a powerful Fae sorceress. Kestrin is shrewd and suspicious by nature, though he has a soft spot for Alyrra. Though she does not know it until the end, he is her friend the “Wind”, who would visit her back home in Adania from the time she was young.

Valka – court lady of Adania, sent as an attendant with the princess on her journey to Menaiya. Found by Alyrra a few years back to be a thief, she tried to accuse a servant of doing the thieving, for which the servant would have been executed. Alyrra exposed her, and she became disgraced in court. Driven by revenge against Alyrra and a desire to be queen, she makes a deal with the Lady, who switches the skins of Alyrra and Valka and prevents Alyrra from speaking of it. Valka is petty and cruel and would go to any lengths to secure her position in the court of Menaiya.

Corbe – the goose boy who works with Alyrra. As an unacknowledged bastard son of a lord of Menaiya, he resents his lowly position and is instantly jealous of Alyrra. Attempts to attack her once, but is disuaded by the other stable workers once they hear about it. However, when the “princess” herself speaks to him about taking Alyrra out of the picture, Corbe jumps at the opportunity to hurt her again. He is only stopped when the Wind attacks him.

Sage, Joa, Violet, Oak, Rowan, and Ash – Alyrra’s found family in the stables. Violet, Oak, Rowan, and Ash are siblings, and Sage is their aunt. Joa is the head hostler. All of these folks love Alyrra as a part of their family and would do anything for her. They teacher the language and also how to survive in the city. Violet, who is like a sister to Alyrra, is raped and murdered on her way home one day. Alyrra helps find her killers and ensure their punishment, so her brothers Oak, Rowan, and Ash swear their allegiance to Alyrra.

Falada – a magical Horse, who is one of the few remaining of his kind, and can speak. Only Alyrra knows this, and he is her closest friend when she arrives in Menaiya. When Valka, in her disguise as the princess, discovers how close their relationship is she has Falada killed. Alyrra, per his request, has Falada’s head hung at the gates of the city, where occasionally he seems to be with her still. He always pushes Alyrra to do the right thing, even when it is not the easy thing.

The Red Hawk – Not knowing that he is one of the thief lords in the city, Alyrra saves him one night when he is wounded and running from soldiers. When she meets him again, she offers to pay for one of his boys, Tarkit, to be apprenticed. In return, he and his men help her find and punish the men who killed Violet.

Summary:

Act 1

Alyrra is a young princess who has never really felt as though she fits into the role. A few years before the story, one of Alyrra’s peers, a girl named Valka, stole a valuable piece of jewelry from one of the other members of Court. Alyrra reported it to her mother, the Queen, who said nothing could be done without proof. Valka tried to blame a servant, who would have been executed for stealing, but Alyrra had the soldier search Valka before arresting the servant, and the stolen item was found on her. Valka, who was going to court Alyrra’s brother the crown prince, was disgraced and lost all hope of finding successful marriage among the eligible men at Court. Both Alyrra’s mother and her brother believe that Alyrra never should have acted so against a peer, so her brother beats and tortures Alyrra regularly, while their mother turns a blind eye. Alyrra has only ever felt at home with the servants in the kitchens, who watch out for her, or alone in the forest with her friend the Wind spirit.

When the king from a neighboring kingdom comes and wishes to see her betrothed to his son, the crown prince of Menaiya, Alyrra is uncertain, thinking she might just be hoping from one cruel family to the next. But from the moment the Menaiyans arrive, soldiers seem to deduce what is going on and quietly protect her from her brother. So she agrees to the betrothal, without ever meeting the prince. Shortly before she is due to leave for Menaiya, Alyrra wakes one night to a sorcerer from Menaiya in her bedroom. He warns her of the dangers she’ll find in her new kingdom, and as they are speaking, a terrifying sorceress known only as the Lady appears as well. She wishes to secure Alyrra’s allegiance so she can use her against her newly betrothed the prince. Alyrra refuses, and the Lady threatens that she will return. When Alyrra wakes, both magic users are gone, and when she tells the king of this, he insists that he needs to go home immediately, but that Alyrra should follow with her own group a few days after.

When Alyrra sets out for Menaiya, she is armed with a charm that she is supposed to slip to the prince when she arrives to make him have affection for her so she’ll be protected (the only “nice” thing her mother ever did for her), and a lady attendant, who is none other than Valka. When Alyrra protested having to bring Valka along, her mother ordered it because Alyrra “ruined her life so the least you can do is see that she gets a good marriage in Menaiya”. She is also gifted a beautiful white stallion from her brother, rather than be allowed to take her own beloved horse. She soon finds out that the stallion won’t take a rider, so she tries to release it when nobody is looking.

On their journey, when getting water at the river with Valka, Alyrra is pulled into the river by the Lady. She manages to make it out without drowning, but the Lady has the charm Alyrra’s mother gave her, which she can use to control Alyrra. Valka had betrayed her to the Lady, so the Lady swaps the skins of Valka and Alyrra, so Valka now appears to be the princess. The Lady curses Alyrra so she is unable to talk about what’s been done, and Valka is perfectly willing to betray the prince to the Lady for the chance to be queen.

Stuck in Valka’s skin, Alyrra makes a new identity for herself as a lady who prefers to go by Thoreena. As much as she wishes she could help the prince, she feels free at last from the chains of being royalty. While most court ladies would mourn the loss of their comfortable lifestyles, Alyrra is happy enough when she gets sent by Valka to be the goose girl at the royal stables. Being unable to communicate at first with her new co-workers, they take to calling her Thorn in their language.

Act 2

Though she doesn’t mind the hard labor and anonymity of being the goose girl, Thorn (Alyrra) knows she needs to make sure that Valka-as-princess won’t move to have her executed. So Thorn makes a deal that she’ll write letters to her mother back home (in her own handwriting), so long as Valka leaves her and the prince alone. Valka unhappily agrees.

Shortly after, Thorn returns back to the stables to find that the trunk she inherited with Valka’s things has gone missing, and she’s been summoned to the palace. She meets the prince, Kestrin, who turns out to be the sorcerer from her bedroom. He found the letter she wrote for Valka, and knows that something is up. Since Thorn can’t speak of it, she creatively avoids the truth, drawing Kestrin’s ire. He doesn’t know the exact truth of it yet, but she knows that both she and the “princess” aren’t what they appear.

Most days, Thorn enjoys her life living in the stables. The goose boy, Corbe, is dismissive except for when he stares with his cold eyes. The stable hostlers she shares a home with become like a family to her. There’s Joa, the head hostler, and Sage, the matronly aunt of Violet, Rowan, Ash, and Oak. They all instantly take to Thorn, helping her learn the language quickly which makes her life much easier. Other than that she has Falada, the white stallion she was given by her brother. Falada is a Horse, which have the gift of language, same as men do. He is one of the few remaining, and the fact that he is intelligent and can speak is a secret only Thorn carries, likewise he is the only one besides Valka who knows her true story. One day in the field when Falada is not there, Corbe tries to attack Thorn. She manages to fight him off, but when she runs out into the plains she gets lost. Kestrin and another of his men find her and bring her back to the palace. Kestrin likely knows exactly who she is now, but Thorn cannot and will not admit anything. Upon her return she tells Sage about Corbe, and the young boys teach Corbe a lesson to stay away from Thorn.

Upon finding out that Kestrin saved Thorn, Valka takes revenge by having Falada killed. Thorn wants to stop it, but Falada says that it’s okay, that she should just have his head mounted by the city gates to that he may watch over her still. She pays to do as he asks, and mourns Falada’s death.

Act 3

During this time, Thorn goes out into the streets of the city, finding a little temple to pray in from time to time. On one such evening, she hides a wounded man who is running from some soldiers. Unsure of whether she did the right thing, she helps the wounded man home, learning nothing about him in the process. But he and his men are able to find her shortly after, and she finds out she rescued a man called Red Hawk, who is the leader of one of the city thieving rings. A leader for the people, she finds out through word of mouth, that protects those who belong to him and feeds the street urchins that roam the city. Taking notice of one such urchin, Thorn offers to pay for his apprenticeship, which he will never be able to afford himself. And that is how Thorn makes friends with the street children tell her about the “snatchers”, who are slavers who take young children and sometimes even young women. The king’s men don’t believe it is much of a problem, and the soldiers themselves won’t help unless you offer a bribe.

Thorn uses this knowledge as ammunition when she meets with Kestrin, who often calls for her as he attempts to figure out the puzzle that is Thorn and his betrothed. Kestrin tries to gain her trust and gain her some allies among court, though no one else knows who she really is besides Kestrin.

As the date of the wedding draws nearer, Thorn has to come to terms with the fact that if she does not act and find a way to take her place as princess, Valka will betray Kestrin to the Lady and he will be lost forever. Just as she’s trying to figure out what to do, Violet goes missing. Thorn pulls out all the stops, using all of her contacts to try and find her. But when they do, Violet is near death, having been raped and beaten. Thorn begs Kestrin for help, and he sends the sorceress healer, who does all she can, but Violet still dies a few days later without ever waking up. Thorn demands Kestrin help find whoever killed Violet if he really cares about his people. He swears he will try. To better her odds, Thorn also goes to the Red Hawk, who promises those who are responsible will be found. And so they are, within a few days, and Red Hawks men take their own justice, beating the two offenders before hanging them. Thorn muses upon what true justice means, though she is happy the two men who killed Violet cannot hurt anyone anymore.

On the day before Thorn decides she is going to go and find a way to take her role as princess back, Corbe attacks Thorn in the pasture with the geese. Corbe says that the princess had told him she deserved it, and Thorn would have succumbed to his attack if her good friend the Wind spirit didn’t come to her aid, hurting and distracting Corbe enough for her to get away. That’s when the Lady shows up and threatens to kill Thorn, and the Wind spirit is revealed to have been Kestrin all along. Kestrin sacrifices himself to the Lady to protect Thorn, and the Lady takes him away.

Thorn rushes home, intending to tell her stable family about Corbe and the king about Kestrin, but when she arrives she is arrested for using magic against Corbe. When she is given trial, the king’s men seem to know something isn’t right, but Thorn cannot prove she did not do the magic without exposing Kestrin for the secret sorcerer he is, which she will not. When the men leave the room, she is advised to practice telling her story to the fireplace so she has something to say for herself when she gets back. She finds herself speaking the full truth of who she is and how Kestrin was involved, and out from a secret room behind the fireplace comes the King himself, who finally knows her for her she is. She is cleared of all charges and invited to dine in the palace that night.

At dinner that evening, the King asks Valka what is the proper punishment for traitors. Thinking the King means to punish Thorn, Valka describes a horrible death of being dragged behind horses in a barrel full of nails. The King asks Valka if she is sure, and when she confirms it, the King has her arrested and says the death she described is the one she’ll be subjected to. He reveals Thorn to be the true Princess Alyrra to the rest of Court.

That night, her first night as Princess again, she calls out for the Lady, desperate to save Kestrin. The Lady arrives and tells Alyrra her story, how the prince’s great-great-great grandfather brutally murdered the Lady’s mother, who was fae. The Lady then swore to wipe out the royal line. Alyrra bargains for Kestrin’s life, and the Lady says she will administer three tests, and if the prince passes, she’ll let him go. Alyrra, posing as the Lady, comes to Kestrin two times in his prison and though he has the chance and seems like he wants to, he does not take the opportunity to murder Alyrra, who is disguised as the Lady. After two tests, the Lady admits that killing Kestrin would not be justice, it would be murder, making her no better than the king of old who murdered her mother. The Lady frees them both and Kestrin and Alyrra return to the palace.

Kestrin has known her for a long time, since he befriended her as the Wind spirit when they were both young. Alyrra still does not know if she can fully trust Kestrin, but she has strong feelings for him, and agrees once again to marry him. The day of Valka’s execution arrives, and Alyrra is able to convince Kestrin to convince the King to simply hang Valka like any other traitor instead of using the torture she described. Upon her death, Valka regains her original skin, and Alyrra hers.

End of Book 1

!!!END OF SPOILERS!!!

If you liked Thorn, try:

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana

The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen

The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta

2 thoughts on “Thorn by Intisar Khanani (Book 1)

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