January 12, 2015

Review: Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay

Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay
Published: December 9, 2014, Delacorte Press
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher via Netgalley

A broken promise breaks something inside of you, leaving less of you than there was before.

In Jay’s continuation of Charles Perrault’s “Sleeping Beauty,” Sleeping Beauty and her family never receive their happily-ever-after ending. The prince is killed, and Sleeping Beauty and her two children are locked up by the ogre queen, Queen Ekeeta, and her people, who have effectively taken control of Norvere after the old king died. Rather than allowing herself and her children to be sacrificed to the ogres’ magic, Sleeping Beauty kills herself, bestowing her daughter Aurora with the fairy blessings of bravery, mercy, and strength in the process. Aurora and her younger brother Jor then escape and hide in separate parts of the country under the protection of the fey.

Over the following decade, they are hunted relentlessly by the ogres. For ogre prophecy tells of the rise of a living darkness that will consume the planet and allow all souls - ogres and human alike - to rest in peace for eternity. For this prophecy to come to fruition, the souls of the briar-born children (descendents of the Sleeping Beauty) must be collected. When Aurora learns that Jor has been captured by the ogres and will likely be used to help usher in the age of living darkness, she comes out of hiding and seeks a way to end the ogres’ reign once and for all.

Princess of Thorns has a fairy-tale vibe without being a retelling. It subverts and mashes up elements of “Sleeping Beauty,” “The Six Swans,” and “Rapunzel,” along with a few other tales, yet the story presented here is fully its own. It is the sort of complex story, however, that probably benefits from multiple re-readings. In addition to the main conflict surrounding Aurora, Jor, and the ogre prophecy, Aurora encounters Prince Niklaas of the neighboring kingdom Kanvasol, the princes there suffering under a different curse that turns them into swans on their eighteenth birthdays. In addition to humans and ogres, readers are given glimpses of fey, witches, and ogre-eating trees. While Jay clearly has a handle on the complex world established for the story, it can be a bit difficult for readers to keep track of all the inhabitants, curses, kingdoms, and intrigue present.

Aurora is a convincing and sympathetic protagonist. After spending over half her life hiding from the ogres, she’s willing to do whatever it takes to save her brother from torture and death at the ogres’ hands. Her determination spotlights the novel’s strong emphasis on familial love and loyalty. Aurora is a bit naive and entirely transparent in her masquerade as a boy, and yet she’s stubborn, determined, and earnest in her pursuit of an army and goal of defeating ogre power in Norvere once and for all. It doesn’t hurt that she’s also incredibly gifted in the art of fighting.

While undoubtedly the protagonist of Princess of Thorns, Aurora nevertheless shares the narration. Against Aurora’s one-minded pursuit, Niklaas is a more nuanced character. Just weeks away from his eighteenth birthday, he hopes to overturn the curse by marrying a princess who is heir of a different kingdom, therefore ensuring he can no longer inherit Kanvasol. He joins Aurora’s quest to rescue her imprisoned sibling under the belief that she’s Jor and trying to rescue Aurora, whom he hopes to marry. Niklaas is misogynistic and conceited at the start of the novel, but his turns at (an unfortunately feminine-sounding) narration make his plight a bit more sympathetic, and his character’s transformation is much more dynamic and interesting than Aurora’s is.

The final narrator worth mentioning is Queen Ekeeta. At the behest of her prophetic brother, she has been consuming human souls for the past decade, believing that the more souls she takes, the better off everyone will be for the rise of the living darkness and final peace.

The conflict in Princess of Thorns is literally a race against the clock. Niklaas has only weeks to marry or else he’ll turn into a swan just like his many older brothers did. Aurora has only a short amount of time left before the Long Summer ends and the ogres kill her brother for their prophecy. And Queen Ekeeta has a short amount of time in which to attempt to capture Aurora so that she may use the souls of both briar-born children to usher in the all-consuming living darkness. It’s a lot of conflict, and Jay handles it all fairly well.

But with so much at stake over an increasingly short span of time, one would imagine that the story itself is rather tense and perhaps tightly plotted. That’s not always the case, unfortunately. Much of the story focuses on Aurora and Niklaas traveling together, on their internal conflicts and outward banter. The urgency is there, but the story’s pacing does not always match it.

Still, Jay certainly delivers an entertaining and inventive tale, with flawed, sympathetic characters and a slow-moving yet frustratingly adorable romance. The story is well-written and intriguing, but perhaps is not for those who do not want the challenge of dealing with multiple threads of conflict at once, or who get easily frustrated by the (cliched) like-turned-hate-turned-love sort of relationship.

Rating: 3 stars

Disclaimer: I received this review copy from Netgalley on behalf of the publisher, but that in no way affected my opinion.  
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. I have been reading a lot of reviews for this book lately and whereas before I was undecided about giving this story, I am really beginning to like the sound of it, so I'm glad that you were able to enjoy this one overall Amanda. I'm not normally one to pick up retellings, but I think I can really see myself invested in Aurora, Niklaas and Queen Ekeeta's story! :)

  2. I wasn't a fan of this book for a lot of the reasons you outlined. You definitely enjoyed it more than I did, for which I'm glad as I've heard rumors of a potential sequel, but really well written review, Amanda--you articulated everything so well in this one.

  3. Hehe, I'm such a fan of multiple plot threads weaving around each other so I did enjoy that part. Agreed that it slows strangely in places but I just loved the crazy world and twists ;-)


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