Thank you so much, NetGalley, Avon and Harper Voyager and Harper Voyager, for the chance to read and review one of my most anticipated reads this year in exchange of an honest review.
TW: abuse, peadophilia, violence, emotional manipulation, gaslightining, cannibalism, bulimia, self-harm, PTSD, gore and body horror
Marlinchen and her two sisters live with their wizard father in a city changing from magic to industry and they are the last true witches of Oblya, seen as little more as a tourist trap, with their remedies and charms. Marlinchen spends her days with her clients, but, mostly, taking care of her xenophobic and cruel father, cursed by a witch with an unquenchable appetite. Sequestered by their tyrannical father from the outside world, Undine and Rose manage to rebel, sneaking out to enjoy the city’s amenities, theater and so on and when Marlinchen joins them everything changes when she meets a dancer that captures her heart.
As she keeps sneaking away, her father’s rage keeps growing and so a mysterious threat to the city, when people are found murdered and missing organs. Marlinchen finds herself battling between her loyalty to her father and her desire to discover her love and identity out her prison house.
Juniper & Thorn is a gothic retelling of The Juniper Tree, set in another time and place, but always within the world created of The wolf and the Woodsman.
It’s a very dark and gruesome story and the themes explored are dealt with care and sensitivity by the author. Juniper & Thorn is a brilliant, eerie and intense standalone. The story is narrated in first person by Marlinchen, set in a claustrophic and tight setting and it explores traumas, abuse and violence and their consequences, and, through magic and fairytales, examines nationalism. Through Marlinchen’s voice the reader is captured right away and thrust into the story, following Marlinchen and her sister, dealing with their tyrannical and cruel father, with clients and mysteries and their deep desires to get away and to be free.
The story setting is, mostly, the family manor and its garden, claustrophobic and restricted, with its monsters and peculiarities, but known and it violently contrast with the outside world, both coveted, but unknown and scary. This contrast is replayed by Marlinchen with her routines, taking care of her father, the house, the food and so on and by her new desire to see the world, to know Sevas, to be a bit like her sisters, more conscious of the outside world and its dangers.
Marlinchen is a very peculiar narrator, a truly unreliable one. Since the readers get know the story through her, it’s through her thoughts and actions they start to question themselves and to try to understand what is exactly happening. Marlinchen is different from her older sisters. She’s more quiet and introvert, more, at least apparently, scared and SEEMS more passive, if she’s seen in contrast with Undine’s energy and spite and Rose’ determination and calm, but she’s a very complex character.
She has always had little power in her life and lived in fear and almost as a servant, taking care of her father and house, bending and hiding her own desires, or, almost refusing to having and beliving in them. When she gets out of the house and meets Sevas, when her father’s rage worsens, Marlinchen starts to see how her life could be and her growth is so impressive and moving to read.
Marlinchen is a victim and she’s been through horrible things, narrated in intense and heartwrenching moments, letting the readers know what happened and her reactions, and she deals with her traumas and abuses in her own way, hiding from them, being angry and upset, reacting in certain ways. The author did an outstanding job in describing her and her own way to survive and giving us this brilliant and nuanced portrait of a victim and an empowering heroine, in a feminist retelling of The Juniper Tree.
I loved reading this book, mostly thanks to Marlinchen’s voice and characterization and her growth, curiosity and desires are truly magnificent.
Ava Reid did a wonderful job not only with the setting, tight and claustrophobic, written in such a skillful way I felt prisoner too, but also with the characterization, from the main character to the side ones and I truly enjoyed how the author dealt with themes like traumas and abuse in different character in various way, depicting their being victims and their reactions and way of surviving, from Marlinchen, to Sevas, Undine and Rose, each of them abused and kept prisoners in their own way. Nationalism, xenophobia, paedophilia and traumas are only some of the themes dealt in this book and Ava Reid did a magnificent job writing about them.
Juniper & Thorn balances romance and horror, magic and modernity, fairytales and reality in a very compelling way, capturing the readers’ heart since the beginning, using a writing style evocative and lush, skillfully timed plot twists and revelations and complex and thrilling characters.