Home » Book Review » Thornspell



by Helen Lowe

Published 2008

You don’t have to follow my blog very long to know that I really enjoy fairy tales, and retellings of fairy tales.  I’m always interested to find a new perspective on an old story (or old perspectives in new stories :-D).  Thornspell purported to be the story of the PRINCE from Sleeping Beauty.  And since that is actually one my favorite fairy tales (both in the original and, actually, Disney’s animated version), I thought I would give it a try.

Unfortunately, the main word that comes to mind is just dull.  The story never really engaged me at all.  The characters, especially Prince Sigismund, never really stirred a lot of sympathy in me.  I didn’t really care a lot about their successes or failures.  I’m not sure why, though, because the premise is promising.

I think part of it was that it felt as though Lowe was sort of making up rules for the world as she went along – and that’s a totally different feeling from an author who tells you different rules as you go along.  For instance, someone like J.K. Rowling may tell you a new rule in the third book, but, in retrospect, you can see how that rule has actually been operating throughout the earlier stories; you just weren’t consciously aware of it at the time.  But with Lowe, the introduction of new rules or parameters consistently felt a bit jarring, a sort of, “Oh, I guess I’d better tweak this so I can make this happen” kind of feeling.  Personally, I feel like this is the big difference between fantasy writers who really make a story believable, and ones who just write an alright story.  (Rowling, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Robin McKinley, Patricia Wrede – I could go on, but those are the ones who immediately come to mind as authors who have mastered the ability to build incredibly real worlds, ones where the rules seem so natural that everything flows beautifully.)

The other problem was that Lowe wanted to somehow build a relationship between the prince and the sleeping princess, except, of course, she’s sleeping.  She she creates this sort of ethereal ghost-person-girl who comes along and happens to save the prince multiple times.  But since we aren’t actually told that this is the princess until the very end, it left me, as the reader, feeling a bit conflicted.  Yes, it’s awesome that he really likes this fairy-girl, but we’ve already learned that he has to marry the sleeping princess so…???  It also felt as though this aspect of the princess was created simply so the princess could be a strong, independent woman; even though the story was technically about the prince and his perspective, this strange girl kept inserting her story line – it felt jarring.

Overall, the characters felt stiff and unnatural, which was in keeping with the entire world.  While a good concept, the writing didn’t flow in a way that actually engaged me, and finishing it was more of an exercise in the desire to not have a DNF than any real interest in the conclusion.

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