Books Reviews

REVIEW: Thorn by Anna Burke

After reading and reviewing Anna Burke’s debut novel, Compass Rose, I was really excited to see what she had up her sleeve for her sophomore offering. I knew it was too soon for a sequel to Compass Rose – though I really can’t wait for that sequel – and I was aware that she had a few works in progress. So it was a pure delight to learn that Thorn, Burke’s second book, was released by Bywater Books today – about a month earlier than expected!

When a fatal mistake brings Rowan into the hands of the Huntress, she finds herself trapped in an enchantment that is every bit as alluring as it is cruel.

A first reaction is often to attempt a comparison of an author’s first and second books. This is a reasonable reaction. A great majority of authors tend to write within a particular genre, rarely straying. Well, it’s quite clear from the outset that comparing Thorn to Compass Rose will be a futile endeavor. There are only two similarities: Burke’s imagination and Burke’s writing skills.

Thorn is a riveting homage to Beauty and the Beast. It is not a retelling of the story – it does not follow plot-point by plot-point. But it certainly holds elements of the classic story. However, Burke goes further. In some ways it feels darker and in others it feels more hopeful. It places women more firmly at the center of the story in some wonderful ways. What’s fantastic is that the men are not villainous. Nor are they made inconsequential or easily manipulated. They seem simply…misguided.

Burke’s writing, as it was in Compass Rose, is rich and textured. You won’t want to rush through this novel. In fact, if you do, you’ll miss so much. This is writing you want to take in slowly. It deserves to be savored. There were many times throughout my reading when I would stop, go back a page or two, and read it again. Not because I missed something or didn’t understand. No. I read it again because it deserved to be read again. A couple of times, I read it out loud. Because it deserved to be read out loud.

This is Rowan’s story as she tells it. It’s chock-full of wonderful imagery. Burke paints a picture of a land that is at once savage and beautiful. As Rowan moves through the story, her descriptions of the land move from being savage in its beauty to being beautiful in its savagery. It’s subtle. It’s fantastic.

While the bulk of the story is Rowan’s, Burke also gives us time with the Huntress. However, our glimpses into the Huntress do not seem to be told by the Huntress. Not directly, anyway. Here’s what I find fascinating: These sections are told in third-person so it’s easy to assume an outside narrator. And that could work. But there’s just as strong an argument to assume the Huntress’s inner voice. There is, after all, magic afoot. This is the camp I’m in. As the story moves forward, as the Huntress changes, so do the bits of the story from her perspective. Again, it’s subtle and it’s fantastic. Just…notice these subtleties.

I find that I can’t say much more about this novel. Doing so would give so much away – and I try my best not to let that happen. This novel isn’t as lengthy as Compass Rose, but it’s just as weighty. Once again, Burke defies easy categorization – it’s romance, it’s adventure, it’s fantasy, it’s a fairy tale, it’s feminist literature, it has elements of ecofiction. It’s so many things at once. And it’s delicious.

Anna Burke is very quickly becoming a favorite author.

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