Review: Thorn, Intisar Khanani

“I don’t know what justice is,” I tell him. “But I am trying to get what I can right.”

The above paragraph is a perfect summation of why I loved Thorn, and of why I love Intisar Khanani so much as an author. In Thorn, as in all her books, she writes about characters who may be in bad situations but who are trying their best. Characters who are trying their best are balm to my frazzled soul in these difficult times, so I am pushing Intisar Khanani’s books on people like they are ebags dot com packing cubes. Consider them pushed upon you. Go get you some.1

Thorn is a retelling of the fairy tale “The Goose Girl.” It’s a good fairy tale, full of details with that specifically fairy tale brand of weirdness. In this one, a princess is sent to marry a prince in a faraway land; on the way to her wedding, her chambermaid changes clothes with her and ultimately marries the prince in her stead. The true princess has to serve as the goose girl and comfort herself by talking to the head of her horse Falada, whom the chambermaid has had killed in fear that Falada would tell the truth about her. (Go with it; it’s a fairy tale.) Matters proceed from there.

Thorn does a typically (for Intisar Khanani) sincere and sweet retelling of this story, providing a backstory for the fairy tale weirdness that absolutely works. The maidservant, Valka, has made a deal with a wicked witch to switch bodies with the princess Alyrra, so that the witch can gain access to prince Kestrin. If Alyrra tries to tell what happened to her, the witch’s spell will choke her to death. She takes on the nickname Thorn and bides her time to see if she can save the prince from the witch’s curse.

In the hands of an author whose faith in people is less genuine, Thorn could have been a mess. Huge swathes of the plot depend on people appreciating Thorn for not being a jerk in a world where jerkiness runs rampant. If her goodness had felt forced, or their gratitude untruthful, the book would have fallen apart. But I am particularly in need of books where people are kind because they are trying to be good, even when the circumstances around them may not be conducive to goodness. In Thorn, the characters try to be good because they want to see goodness in the world, but they can only control themselves and their own actions. Which is, you know, pretty hashtag-relatable right now.

Who here still hasn’t read Intisar Khanani? How can I convince you to give her a go?

  1. I am still not being paid by ebags dot com although I think that I should be because I have convinced three people this year alone to buy their product.
  • MumsyNK

    And the ending! The really great, but not at all pat or fairy tale ending! Khanani is the greatest and she can be my best friend ANY TIME. 😜

    • YES not at all pat, totally! I wish she would release one book every ALWAYS because I will ALWAYS be in the tank for her writing. <3

  • Jeanne

    Your initial quotation reminds me of a character in Firefly saying “if you can’t do something smart, do something right.” I’ll have to check this book out.

    • Ooh, yes! I love both of those quotations v. much. I hope you read this, Jeanne! It’s super good and I think you’d like it and also you should read Ninefox Gambit.

  • My library search engine practically laughed at me when I tried to find this book. Guess I won’t be getting it from the library….

    • anna

      But it’s quite cheap as an ebook! Only 3.99-and sometimes it goes on sale! (I searched my library fruitlessly for Sunbolt a few months before realizing this)

  • I’m a huge Intasar Khanani fan…and it all started with Thorn. 🙂

    • Yes! I started with a different one of her books because I wanted to save Thorn for myself. I knew I would love it and I doooooooo.

  • I loved this book so much. Weirdly, I didn’t know The Goose Girl story before reading this, but I thought it was great anyway.

    • I don’t think that’s weird! It’s not one of the best-known fairy tales, I think partly because it’s got so many little weirdnesses that the story doesn’t explain? Which if you’re not already in the tank for fairy tale weirdness can be off-putting, I guess.

  • Hahaha, I bought packing cubes for my last trip and they were good things. Usually I’m that person with clothes spread all over the freaking bed five minutes after opening the door to the hotel room, so. I still need to find a way to cut down on my toiletries, though.

    • YESSSSS I am happy for you, friend! Packing cubes have made my travel life approx 10x better, and unpacking is so much easier too.

  • Laila@BigReadingLife

    Alright, you’ve convinced me. No luck with my library system, but maybe Interlibrary Loan can find it for me! Also, I didn’t know about Ebags. Very interesting…

    • You can also buy the Thorn ebook for not very much money, and it’s VERY worth it, it’s absolutely great. Dark in parts but overall just really hopeful.

  • Thank you so much for this wonderful review. I am so glad that the story spoke to you as it did. I wrote and revised Thorn in the months and years following 9/11, and I too found myself in need of stories where people are kind because they are trying to be good, and where people struggle with concepts of justice and mercy because nothing is black and white, no matter how much we wish it was. The thing is to try. So thank you for this. ❤️

    • Thank YOU for writing such great books. I’m a huge fan of yours and massively look forward to every piece of work you do. Thanks for being great and grappling with these issues in a way that makes an impossible world feel possible-er. :p

  • Rachel

    I need to read this ASAP! I’ve heard so many wonderful things about this book including your review! I hope to read it soon.

  • Aarti

    I feel so similarly about books with people who are trying to do good! That’s one of my favorite things about Khanani’s writing.

    Somewhat related, I watched Moana last night, and it was so good and it is ALSO about someone just trying to do good for other people.

  • I’m so glad my library bought this on my recommendation. Now I need to read it!

  • I hadn’t read anything of Intisar’s before this book, but I loved it and really would like to see it get more attention, so I completely support your decision to push this on everyone 🙂 I actually found it surprisingly dark, but I enjoyed that about it. I also thought she added a lot of depth and improved the world building compared to the original. I should definitely check out what else she’s written!

    • Hahaha okay, yeah, it’s quite dark, you are not wrong. I’m glad you like it anyway! Her novella Sunbolt is great and the sequel, Memories of Ash, is even better. Those two books are part of an unfinished series but imo each book stands on its own merits and feels like a complete story.