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.

Tell the Wind and Fire, Sarah Rees Brennan

Note: I received Tell the Wind and Fire from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

Okay, despite having shared that article about how people should stop hating so much on YA love triangles, I am slightly over YA love triangles, not because there aren’t authors who can write them well, but because YA authors who can’t write them well insist on writing them anyway. So to read a book like Tell the Wind and Fire, which is about a girl and two physically identical dudes, and which specifically and deliberately steers away from love triangling, made a refreshing change.

Tell the Wind and Fire

Lucie Manette has won her way over to the Light side of her city through a combination of luck and judicious manipulation of her own public image. Now she has a wealthy and influential Light boyfriend and things seem to be going her way (as long as she doesn’t think too much about those she left “buried” in the Dark side of the city). But everything changes when her boyfriend Ethan avoids arrest only by the intervention of a Dark doppelganger called Carwyn–someone Lucie never knew existed. If you have read A Tale of Two Cities you can basically predict how this all turns out.1

Because I do not like Dickens,2 I wasn’t expecting much from Tell the Wind and Fire. I was delighted to find that it is a kind of book I particularly love, which is the kind where the protagonist is trying to be a good person in a world where the only choices available to them are bad. Toss in themes of public perception, its power and lability, and its contrast with true reality, and you’ve got Gin Jenny catnip.

actual footage of my reading experience

Thus! If you are on the hunt for a dark-but-fun page-turner about good people who are trying their best, or just a YA novel where a girl can have two boys in her life without falling into an abyss of indecision about which one to kiss, may I point you toward Tell the Wind and Fire?

Where are y’all on love triangles these days? In, out, in but need a break, out but you’ll make exceptions?

  1. I have not but I read the end.
  2. I have tried: I love A Christmas Carol but I hated Oliver Twist (twice) and the first third-to-half of both Great Expectations nor Bleak House, and at some point I shouldn’t have to keep trying.

The Book of Memory, Petina Gappah

Remember before, when I was reading Anthony Schneider’s Repercussions and talking all about how I wished I read more books about good people who are trying their best? Guess what happened! I read The Book of Memory, which is about an albino woman in Zimbabwe who’s in jail for murdering the white man to whom her parents sold her when she was nine years old. Guess what it is about! Contrary to expectation, it’s totally about good people trying their best!

The Book of Memory

I know, I know, I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking: But, murder? But, selling a child to an adult man? I perfectly understand your concerns. Nevertheless, and trust me, The Book of Memory is all about good people trying their best. I was interested in this premise before I began reading, but the book surprised and moved me with where it took the story of Memory’s past and present. This is a story about things not being what they look like, and that is a type of story I absolutely cherish.

To begin with, of course, there’s Memory herself. As an albino child in her home township of Mufakose, she is accustomed to drawing the confused (at best) and hostile (at worst) glances of those who see her. She’s a freak, an oddity, an exception in her own family, perhaps a witch or evildoer, simply because of the color (lack of color) of her skin and hair. Under Lloyd’s care, she’s seen as a servant, a ward, a charity case. At the same time, although Memory herself is rarely seen for who she really is, it doesn’t make her any better at seeing the world around her clearly. Like the judges on her case, like the people of her township, like us as readers even, Memory’s vision is clouded by what she expects the world to look like.

The Book of Memory is Petina Gappah’s first novel, and it bears some of the marks of a first novel. Certain plot threads are underdeveloped, such as Memory’s doomed relationship with an artist called Zenzo, and it’s possible too much is made early on of the murdery-mystery bits of the book, considering that Lloyd’s death isn’t really the point of the book. But Gappah’s writing is wry and readable, and I fell in love with even the most minor of her characters.

Some bits I liked:

His career has risen with our country’s collapse. . . . His painting speaks truths that the government wants to hide, it is said. He is the artist exiled from his homeland because his work shows a reality before which the government flinches. None of it is true, but who cares for truth when there is a troubled homeland and tortured artists to flee from it?

It will not be possible for me to escape the past. But if I go back there, it will only be to find ways to make rich my present. To accept that there are no villains in my life, just broken people, trying to heal, stumbling in darkness and breaking each other, to find a way to forgive my father and mother, to forgive Lloyd, to find a path to my own forgiveness.