YA Review: Thorn

Title: Thorn
Author: Intisar Khanani

Reluctant princess Alyrra is on her way to an arranged marriage in a neighbouring kingdom when she is given an unexpected chance to escape. Her mother expects her to involve herself in the politics and intrigues of her new home, and to happily marry a man she’s never met. Everything she’s heard about life in the foreign court leads her to believe that her safety there may not be guaranteed. When her identity is stolen by sorcery, she seizes the chance to disappear and live as one of the servants. She is given the job of helping to take care of the geese, and finds friends among the other servants.

But she makes enemies as well, and the woman who stole her identity is making the most of her new royal status. While Alyrra would be content to remain a goose girl, and make a home with her found family, her duties as the true princess weigh on her mind. When the imposter realises she needs Alyrra’s help to survive in her new role, the goose girl must decide which life she is willing to live, and what she is willing to give up to help her friends.

I first came across Intisar Khanani and her books at the #AtHomeYALC online event in 2021. She gave a talk entitled ‘Three Tips for Writing Mighty Girls’ (which you can find on the YALC YouTube page), and introduced me to the concept of the Heroine’s Journey as a structure for storytelling. This book follows that structure, instead of the more recognisable Hero’s Journey, and I really enjoyed the differences in pace and theme.

Alyrra is a ‘mighty girl’, but not because she’s a kick-ass protagonist or a solo heroine. Her strength lies in her moral compass, and in the connections she makes with the people around her. Before long in her role as goose girl, she has surrounded herself with friends among the servants, but also in the wider community. She defends herself from people who threaten her, but she also negotiates co-operation between characters who would otherwise draw their weapons on sight. It’s a powerful characterisation, and the author explores the story of this more emotional, co-operative protagonist while making sure there is plenty of action, peril, and heartache to keep the pages turning.

And the pages do keep turning. From the initial setup to the conclusion, the author keeps us guessing. What will Alyrra do? How will she react to danger and threats – to herself and her friends, and to her family and kingdom? You won’t find the beats of the standard Hero’s Journey here, but you will find an alternative way to tell a story, to empathise with a heroine, and to bring all the threads together at the end.

Full marks to Hot Key Books, whose back-cover summing up of the story in four words reads ‘Betrayal, Injustice, Sorcery, Geese’. They’re not wrong, but I’d add ‘A Mighty Girl’ to the list. Definitely worth a read.

Have you read Thorn? What did you think of the story? Did you enjoy the heroine’s journey structure? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.

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