I finished this book, all 512 pages, and before closing it at 12:44 am, I picked up my phone and sent the author a thank you message on instagram. Yes, it was that good and that fun, and so well written and so encompassing that I don’t feel like I read a book, I feel like I got to know a friend. There is abuse, and death and sexual assault, but I think thirteen and up can handle and appreciate the crimes and the severity of them, as they are not taken lightly. The book has magic and royalty, but is so much more about choice and justice and making life meaningful, that Thorn will stay with you as you imagine her life, long after you turn the last page. ***I did not know it was a retelling of Goose Girl by the Brothers Grimm prior to reading the book, and only read it after writing this review, so forgive me for being so swept away by Falada and Kestrin and loathsome to Corbe’ and Valka, if it so irks you that I am.***
Princess Alyrra is set to marry Prince Kestrin in a neighboring country. Unloved and unwanted by her own mother and abused by her brother, none of the royal family can figure out why the King of Menaiya would be coming to see her and appraise the match. One possibility is because the royal Menaiyan family tends to disappear at alarming rates, and Alyrra might just be a princess that no one will miss. When a Menaiyan mage comes to warn her and is pushed aside by a magic Lady, Alyrra may be leaving an abusive brother, but getting herself a much bigger nightmare to manage.
Alyrra is known for her honesty. She stood up for a servant against a Lord’s daughter and prospective wife for her brother, and since then, the royals despise her and the servants adore her. She spends her time with the holsters and cooks and they keep her aware of her cruel brother’s locations. When the visiting entourage comes, they see her tormentor and give her a security detail, as well as see how she is beloved by the staff.
Once the match is arranged she is off to Menaiya with Valka, the girl she revealed to be a thief. Along the way, the Lady presents herself again and switches Valka and Alyrra’s bodies, to give Valka another chance to be queen and to use the real Valka as a tool to destroy the royal family. The only person in the traveling group aware of the switch, and that can see through it, is Falada a white talking horse, that only speaks to the real Alyrra and refuses to be ridden.
When the girls arrive at the palace, the pretend princess dismisses Alyrra, who has decided to rename herself Thoreena, Thorn. She asks the king if there are any available positions and thus becomes the Goose Girl.
Thorn is still summoned to the castle to write letters home for the imposter and the prince and former security quad find something off with a former lady of the court finding such contentment in manual labor. As she settles in to life with the other employees she finds laughter and companionship and only Falada prods her to reclaim her position as princess and save Prince Kestrin from the Lady.
When Falada is killed, and street justice is called on to avenge the brutal rape and killing of a friend, Thorn must decide to enjoy her quiet life or step up and be the change the people and royals of Menaiya need.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love that it isn’t a sappy love story, it really could have been, but Thorn is calling the shots and she is enough without anyone or with everyone. I love that she is secure in any role and that her sense of loyalty and obligation comes from within. The writing is seamless, so often things are repeated and forced upon in a first person present tense story, but this read easily and held my interest. I love the titles and some of the sprinkling of made up words, it gave depth and richness, as well as the struggle that Thorn had to go through to speak the language. I loved that she had to work to acquire the skills to communicate and that it was a part of the story, it didn’t just happen, nor did it get swept aside.
Thorn is religious, but no idea what religion or what it means, she seeks going to the temple for peace and clarity, and we know she takes off her shoes, but that is about it. The author is Muslim and the book is superb. I had my daughter read it before I read it, and she in turn made me read it, even watching her younger siblings so I could sneak away.
Death, murder, public execution, hanging, sexual assault, rape, abuse, violence.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I am thinking to do it as a book club book if and when we return to school. It would depend a bit on the group, but I think older middle school could handle it toward the end of the year. There is a lot to discuss, a lot that readers could understand differently regarding the Lady, when her secret identity was blown, the value of love and choice, that I am confident that the conversation would be rich and enlightening.