Review: An Enchantment of Thorns (Rookwood & Vince)

Today’s Indie Book Spotlight lands on a retelling of one of my very favorite tales…

An Enchantment of Thorns Review

Note: I received a free advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Holy mackerel! I love this book.

In all seriousness, this retelling of Beauty and the Beast was everything I could have asked for. For one thing, the magic has been upgraded more than a few levels. The royals of An Enchantment of Thorns are not just people born into the ruling class, but long-limbed, terrifying and impossibly graceful fae who belong to multiple courts throughout the land. But there’s more than one kind of fae in this world, and it’s hard to say which is more dangerous.

Narrator Aster is most familiar with the fae of the Folkwood, which surrounds her home in Rosehill. The Folkwood is a dangerous place, full of wicked tricksters (the small folk) and deadly ones, like the puca who’s been stalking Aster since the day it took her mentor, Sage. There’s also the beast, a fae creature seen once a year at the Tithe (more on the that in a minute).

Enchantment of Thorns cover
This is the second series for co-authors Rookwood and Vince

Haunted by Sage’s death and burdened with replacing her as Rosehill’s only greenwitch, heroine Aster lives her life bottled up, geographically and emotionally. She’s as comfortable in a fight, thanks to her father’s training, as she is nurturing both plants and humans, often doing both in the same day. But she’s not as empowered as she seems. When the local farmers ignore her orders, or when servants in her wealthy half-sister’s household murmur each time Aster visits, there’s nothing Aster can do but suck it up. As her butt-kicking older sister Laurel puts it, Aster isn’t exactly living a complete life.

Roses with thorns

The characters in An Enchantment of Thorns are complex and unique. To break the curse, Aster must drop her prejudices against fae; after 99 years of cursed life, Throne must learn to let go of his. But are the fae to be trusted?

“To Rosehill, you have to be the calm and collected greenwitch who keeps her head in emergencies,” Laurel says, “but I know you, Aster…I know how much you feel.” Those emotions will be the key to Aster’s future and developing her particular human craft. They’re also what lands her at the beast’s Cursed Court, via the annual Tithe.

Once a year, every girl of a certain age must step onto a pathway that forms in the Folkwood. One girl will be chosen, and never seen again; the rest return shaken and almost unable to describe the terrible and beautiful fae lord they’ve just seen. If the people of Rosehill try to resist the Tithe—if even one girl fails to appear—the Folkwood closes in on all the girls, and no one survives. Yet the girls presented at the Tithe are meant to look “pretty and innocent,” with a requisite crown of flowers in their hair. As Aster describes it, “this was not a day for beauty. This was a day for iron and steeled nerves.”

When Aster’s silly half-sister Ava and her friends read one too many fairy tales and want to be chosen, Aster, who is also of age for the Tithe, must intervene. No surprise—though she appears ragged and wearing thorns instead of pretty blooms—the beast picks Aster instead.

It’s hard not to picture the temperamental Disney beast at times, but this one, who goes by Thorne, is more beast after the curse is broken than before (albeit with a really good head of hair). His house is more woodland than palace. Thorne has servants, of course, but they are lesser fae, and include the adorable Mosswhistle, a brownie Aster lures into her service after a few days of torment by the little folk.

And they do torment her: invisible at first, they leave out a beautiful dress full of pins, snatch the heat from a steaming bath the moment she sets foot in it, and never grow tired of laughing at and mocking her. There’s no “be our guest,” sung or stated, in An Enchantment of Thorns.

Aster is an interesting character who makes a great vehicle for the reader; she falls in love slowly and unexpectedly enough that it never feels forced. What makes her interesting is never forced, either: Aster is a young woman with many responsibilities and very few choices. She’s found her calling with plants, but her days aren’t exactly her own.

Aster is young, and lacks the respect Sage had though she must do the same work. Even supportive big sister Laurel, a fighter working for their smuggler father, doesn’t realize just how much there is to Aster. “The Beast should beware if he chooses you at the Tithe this week, what with your arsenal of plants,” she quips. (But also note: at least half of my highlights in this book were Laurel’s lines.)

It’s wonderful to see Astrid gradually become empowered. Best of all, she becomes empowered before she’s swept away by her heart. In this retelling, it isn’t all about falling in love to break a curse.

Dark fairytales

The dullahan makes a chilling appearance in An Enchantment of Thorns, along with barghests and too many pixies, brownies and goblins to count.

There’s so much depth to Thorne’s “beast” character, too, from his sarcasm, goading and irritatingly (for Aster) indirect encouragement, to the despair driving his weather-changing bad moods. He’s neither beastly nor overly handsome, like in some romantic fantasies. Says Aster, “His wild beauty was like a knife to the gut.”

Interestingly, Thorne also takes on the role of mentor. Unlike the selfish beast most of us know from Disney, Throne never appears truly uncaring. He doesn’t appear at her door the first night to try to force her to dinner; he only expects it as a courtesy to a seriously down-on-his-luck Court Fae, and because the other Tithe girls always managed it. He doesn’t forbid her food if she doesn’t eat with him, either. Moody, complicated, humane and ultimately lovable, he’s a beast any smart gal could fall in love with.

Fans of dark fantasy will feel at home reading An Enchantment of Thorns, thanks to the nightmarish curse and the monstrous fae in the Folkwood; there are some truly chilling settings and scenes thanks to both. Fantastical ones, too. But romantics will also love it. And if you’re like me, you will deeply regret not having the next book to read immediately after finishing it.

An Enchantment of Thorns is currently available for pre-order, and will be released on May 6, 2021. To learn more about these indie authors, visit their websites at helenarookwood.com and elmvince.com.

Indie Book Spotlight: Sting Magic (Wilson)

It’s time for another Indie Book Spotlight!

Note: I received a free advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Sting Magic, the first book in the new Empire of War and Wings series by prolific author Sarah K.L. Wilson, is a typo-dotted triumph. There are three reasons for that: world-building, a unique magic system, and the fact that it is never boring.

Main character Aella lives in a wild colony, the Far Stones, where residents have freedom and hardships alike. They’re poor and backwards by Imperial standards, but most of their time is spent farming in a land that likes to turn upside down and murder them—the Forbidding, a strange, viney magic that corrupts trees and bears and whatever else it can find. Aella’s family is her everything.

And then the heir to the Empire shows up.

That’s when Aella finds out that she has the same winged, creative twist on familiars-style magic as the Empire’s most celebrated warriors. It’s a dream and a nightmare for her. Except, instead of having birds like literally everyone, Aella hatches golden, magical bees. Heresy!

Aella is forced to leave her family to become property of the ruthless Le Majest, Juste Montpetit. In the course of a few hours she loses everything, with only the warm glow of her cute and happy bee familiars to comfort her. Aella has a litany of horrors to face as she travels through a perilous land alongside violent Imperials, and more than few mysteries to solve as she tries to save her family and weighs joining the rebels.

Familiar magic: Readers will love to hate Sting Magic‘s ruthless villain and adore Aella’s bees.

Sting Magic is a shorter novel that moves at a brisk pace. The cozy but disgruntled domestic scenes at the beginning are the closest it ever gets to slow, plus the “let me barge in and spend a long time asserting my authority even though I clearly have other houses to get to” encounter with the cruel prince that immediately follows it. The latter scene could have been more concise and still left the reader wanting to punch Juste Montpetit if given the chance. He’s pure villain, but it works.

An early exchange with Ospey also feels a touch long, and there’s a bit of bouncing around the timeline here and there that can be confusing. But the high stakes for the main character, combined with the mysteries of her magical and dangerous homeland, keep things moving.

That being said, Sting Magic wasn’t fully my cup of tea. One of its biggest weaknesses is its main character, not a weak female MC at all but a broadly sketched one. Aella is more reactive than anything, and replies angrily to her captors when I would’ve expected a brooding, calculating silence, given her goals. She’s a contradiction that way, flying off the handle despite repeatedly being told she could endanger her family, the absolute last thing she wants. She doesn’t read like a person with a hot temper, either.

I was relieved when Aella finally did something proactive toward her goal, and it filled in some of her missing personality. Still, I left the book with only a weak sense of who she is. (I hope Aella will be fleshed out more in the rest of the series.)

One of the reasons Aella’s weak personality stands out so much is because the other characters are so well-rendered: the irredeemably villainous prince, Juste Montpetit; the snooty society gal who just might be a friend, Zayana; the mentor with the huge personality, Ivo; and Osprey, the toothpick-gnawing would-be ally she can’t fully trust. They are never described extensively (Osprey gets a little extra detail so you’ll know he’s handsome), but the things these characters say and do gave me a clear picture of them and their personalities.

The magic system and world-building of Sting Magic are, of course, superb. I wished the writing was a bit more polished (those typos and repetitive phrases!), but the interesting world Wilson created kept me turning pages.

This is a quick read I recommend picking up, in which you can despise the villain, root for the heroine to accomplish her goals (“Be relentless.”), and lose yourself if an intriguing and dangerous world of fabulous magic.

The C.K. Beggan Bookish Blog

The C.K. Beggan Bookish Blog

Welcome to The C.K. Beggan Bookish Blog! If you’re looking for your next read, titles are listed alphabetically and divided by indie and traditional publishing. (If you look closely enough, you may even find some non-fantasy books.) And while you’re here, don’t forget to check out the author interviews and special features, which include book lists by theme!

Independently Published Books: C.K. Beggan‘s Indie Book Spotlight

Fiction

Reviews of the best (and my favorite) fantasy and speculative fiction novels I’ve come across so far, all by indie authors.

Atheist’s Angel (Anna Velfman)

Avalanche (Anna Velfman)

Between Jobs (W.R. Gingell)

Bride of the Shadow King (Sylvia Mercedes)

The Cracked Slipper (Stephanie Alexander)

The Crown Plonked Queen (Andrew Einspruch)

A Darkness at the Door (Intisar Khanani)

The Daughter of Earth (Callie Pey)

Daughter of Shades (Silvia Mercedes)

Droplets of Magic (Emily Bybee)

The Eastie Threat (Andrew Einspruch)

An Enchantment of Thorns (Helena Rookwood & Elm Vince)

Enchanting Fate (Ashley Evercott)

The Fox and the Briar (Chesney Infalt)

Frozen Hearts and Death Magic (Day Leitao)

Guardians of Talons and Snares (Anastasis Blythe) – live 9/27/22

Heart of Cinders (J. Darlene Everly)

Her Dreadful Will (Rebecca F. Kenney)

Icedancer (Anna Velfman)

Maiden of Candlelight and Lotuses (Anastasis Blythe)

Married by Wind (Angela J. Ford)

Married by Fate (Jenny Hickman)

Music of the Night (Angela J. Ford)

Of Heists and Hexes (S.L. Prater)

Of Silver and Secrets (Sylvia Mercedes)

Phoenix Heart, Season One, Episode One: Ashes (Sarah K.L. Wilson)

The Prince and the Poisoner (Helena Rookwood)

A Promise of Thorns (Helena Rookwood & Elm Vince)

The Purple Haze (Andrew Einspruch)

Rise of the Fire Queen (Alisha Klapheke)

The Road to Farringale (Charlotte E. English)

Stolen by the Shadow King (Alisha Klapheke)

Sunbolt (Intisar Khanani)

Spindle (W.R. Gingell)

Sting Magic (Sarah K.L. Wilson)

Snowblind (Anna Velfman)

Tapestry of Night (Elm Vince)

The Thief and the Throne (Helena Rookwood)

A Trial of Thorns (Helena Rookwood & Elm Vince)

Throne of Sand (Helena Rookwood & Elm Vince)

To Carve a Fae Heart (Tessonja Odette)

Twelve Days of Faery (W.R. Gingell)

Nonfiction

Traditionally Published Books: Reviews of All My Favs

My favorite books in the fantasy, noir, literary and speculative fiction genres that have been released by traditional publishers.

Author Interviews: One Author to Another

A new category! In which I do my best to pose thoughtful questions to some of my favorite indie authors.

Anastasis Blythe, live October 1, 2022 – 11 Questions with Anastasis Blythe, author of Guardians of Talons and Snares

Chesney Infalt, June 3, 2022 – 10 Questions with Chesney Infalt, author of The Fox and the Briar

Anna Velfman, April 15, 2022 – 10 Questions with author Anna Velfman, author of Snowblind

Andrew Einspruch, May 25, 2021 – Questions with the hilarious, award-winning author of The Light Bearer

Helena Rookwood and Elm Vince, April 10, 2021 – Questions with the co-authors of An Enchantment of Thorns

Special Features: Authors, Books and Writing

From Ask an Indie Author to trivia to Book Lists, find blog posts featuring by topic, writing tips andIndie Author Spotlights.

Indie Author Spotlight: Tessonja Odette – August 2022

Of Thieves and Shadows cover reveal! (BOMM tour) – live 8/23/22

Rise of the Fire Queen is here! (Book News) (8/7/22)

Ask an Indie Author with Ashley Evercott – How I make my book covers shine on social media? (7/15/22)

Indie Author Spotlight: Anthea Sharp – June 2022

Six of Crows month content (June 2022)

8 Fantasy Books with Delicious Cliffhanger Endings (Including Six of Crows)

9 Fantastic quotes from the Six of Crows duology

10 Books to read after Six of Crows

Kaz Brekker and my Fjerdan heist level character hangover

Trivia: Do You Know Kaz Brekker?

Trivia: How well do you know Six of Crows?

Trivia: How well do you know the Six of Crows duology characters?

From Storm and Shadow cover reveal! (BOMM tour) – 5/30/22

16+ Awesome Asian-Inspired Fantasy Worlds – 5/27/22 – A book list with settings from the Middle East to the Pacific Islands

Weaver cover reveal! (BOMM tour) – 5/10/22

Vow of the Shadow King cover reveal (BOMM tour) – 5/4/22

A Throne of Shadows Cover reveal! (BOMM tour) – 4/28/22

A Darkness at the Door cover reveal – 4/22/22 – in which I discuss the Dauntless Path series and reveal the fabulous cover

Retellings to Thrill Any Fantasy Reader – A complete list of fairy tale and classic book retellings I’ve reviewed on the blog

Supporting Diversity in Fantasy – A mission statement for the blog, plus links to authors who feature diverse characters in their work

Lessons from Bestsellers Part I (Using Contrast to Create Depth) – Learning from Hannah and Leo in The German Girlby Armando Lucas Correa

Lessons from Bestsellers Part II (Using Contrast to Create Depth) – A look at the many sides of Ali in S.A. Chakraborty’s City of Brass

Lessons from Bestsellers Part III (Using Contrast to Create Depth) – A mystery and a terrible truth rounds out Bethany C. Morrow’s A Song Below Water

5 Awkward Situations to Make Your MC Shine – Examples of awkwardness that endear main characters to readers in some of my favorite books

Indie Book Spotlight: Throne of Sand (Rookwood, Vince)

In today’s Indie Book Spotlight, we revisit Helena Rookwood, author of the excellent new adult fantasy/romantic fantasy The Prince and the Poisoner (see my review from March 2020 here), and are introduced to her friend and writing partner Elm Vince in:

Throne of Sand (Desert Nights Novels Book 1), by Helena Rookwood and Elm Vince (April 16, 2020; Teen/YA Historical Fantasy, Historical Romance, Asian Historical Fiction)

(Note: I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Familiar, then unexpected.  Throne of Sand is a book that caught me by surprise—in a very good way.

Its basic premise is not so unusual, with a tenacious, un-ladylike for the times female lead.  It’s written in familiar, contemporary language (not my favorite for a story in an older era, but it ended up suiting the action well).  As a retelling of Aladdin, it’s a story we’re well acquainted with (comfortingly so), complete with cheeky little nods to the movie adaptation and callbacks to the original folktale (this djinni is in a ring). But this time, the hero is a heroine: Zadie, the princess who reads, writes, rides bareback and knows her way around a trade agreement.  In other words, she is not the princess her fiancé expects.

Especially because Sultan Kassim was engaged to her sister.

Zadie hides a very large secret, having helped her sister elope with a commoner she loved.  But the replacement princess is not all virtue and romantic ideals: Zadie wants her sister to be happy, but she also wants a chance to rule, something she’s prepared for and never had a chance at until now.  She’s not above a little manipulation, and her servants are not above caking her with makeup to make her the legendary beauty Kassim was promised.

This Aladdin retelling is fast, full of action and fun–and even the djinni gets a backstory.

After a very tense meeting with the sultan, Zadie travels to her future kingdom, where she spends her time ditching her servants and trying to prove she can be a sultanah who rules, rather than one who just looks pretty on her powerless throne.  She has to balance her kingdom’s need for the marriage to go through with getting what she wants.  The tightrope act soon gets irritating, both for Zadie and for this particular reader.

Fortunately, Zadie’s adventurous nature gets the better of her and the best parts of the story come on fast, full of action and fun. Even rude, tradition-obsessed Kassim, whose sole virtues were his title and muscles, starts to soften after a bit.  The wooden sultan becomes a real boy, and it turns out he isn’t half bad.

I wasn’t familiar with Elm Vince before this, but I knew from The Prince and the Poisoner that Helena Rookwood can write amazing and unique female characters (resilient ones, to be sure).  Like the royalty in The Prince and the Poisoner, nobody’s a hero or flat-out scoundrel in the courts of Throne of Sand.  The characters in this tale are also more dynamic.  We see them grow, show their true colors and correct their mistakes throughout the story, and Zadie turns out to be a great deal of fun as a main character.

She certainly knows how to find trouble, too.  Like Rookwood’s Lira, she never crumples in the face of it (unless, you know, it’s physically impossible not to.  Again, there’s a lot of great action in Throne of Sand).  Zadie has intelligence, diligence and toughness to commend her, and whenever she has a sheltered princess moment or two, she manages to redeem herself with her cleverness sometime after.

This is one of those books that I really looked forward to picking up again, only to remember I’d just finished it, which left me really disappointed that I couldn’t go back for more.  (Thank goodness the sequels are now out.)  Our princess may start out helpless and a little on the scheming side (and a lot on the naïve side), but beneath all that is true, three-dimensional character, and just the right traits for someone who hopes to rule.  For all my grumbling when I started reading, it becomes impossible not to root for her—and important that I must read what happens next.

Indie Book Spotlight: Sunbolt (Khanani)

I’m trying something new tonight.  This is about to be my first Indie Book Spotlight:

Sunbolt Review

Sunbolt (The Sunbolt Chronicles #1), by Intisar Khanani (Clean YA Fantasy; 2013)

This one’s a fantasy, and would work for YA-readers.

Note: the author is soon to leave the indie ranks, though The Sunbolt Chronicles are staying in the self-published realm as of this post.

So what’s it about?  An ethnically mixed foreigner in a place where that’s a dangerous thing to be, where sinister government plots are afoot (plus those who are working against them).  The main character, Hitomi, dashes through a vibrant market, meets vampires and werewolves, steals to survive and rebels to live.

OK, so when I started reading this I thought, “Yeah, this is a good story.  Well-written.  Not really my taste though.  Why did I buy it?” Then I kept reading and found out.  Yup, Sunbolt was for me.  And I loved it.

Hitomi was a breath of fresh air, and Sunbolt and its sequel (Memories of Ash) taught me a lot about good world-building.  It was also a perfect remedy for the doom and gloom of other fantasy tales I’d been reading.

I actually had no idea the author was self-published until I reached the end (which did come too soon, but in a “Where are the sequels, I need them now!” sorta way).  Khanani, who will be traditionally published with a new version of her novel Thorn, writes clean fantasy, meaning her work contains suitable language for a wide audience.  Mind you, the monsters and violence in Sunbolt may scare younger readers and could be inappropriate.

Official synopsis:

The winding streets and narrow alleys of Karolene hide many secrets, and Hitomi is one of them. Orphaned at a young age, Hitomi has learned to hide her magical aptitude and who her parents really were. Most of all, she must conceal her role in the Shadow League, an underground movement working to undermine the powerful and corrupt Archmage Wilhelm Blackflame.
When the League gets word that Blackflame intends to detain—and execute—a leading political family, Hitomi volunteers to help the family escape. But there are more secrets at play than Hitomi’s, and much worse fates than execution. When Hitomi finds herself captured along with her charges, it will take everything she can summon to escape with her life.

That’s all.  Thanks for reading!

-CKB