For Princess Alyrra, choice is a luxury she’s never had … until she’s betrayed.
Princess Alyrra has never enjoyed the security or power of her rank. Between her family’s cruelty and the court’s contempt, she has spent her life in the shadows. Forced to marry a powerful foreign prince, Alyrra embarks on a journey to meet her betrothed with little hope for a better future.
But powerful men have powerful enemies–and now, so does Alyrra. Betrayed during a magical attack, her identity is switched with another woman’s, giving Alyrra the first choice she’s ever had: to start a new life for herself or fight for a prince she’s never met. But Alyrra soon finds that Prince Kestrin is not at all what she expected. While walking away will cost Kestrin his life, returning to the court may cost Alyrra her own. As Alyrra is coming to realize, sometime the hardest choice means learning to trust herself.
Source: Review copy from the author via NetGalley
The fantasy genre is full of fairytale retellings, some good, some awful, many in between. Luckily, this is one of the good ones. A really, really good one. Alyrra isn’t the type of heroine that will appeal to everyone, especially at first, but stick with her, because she’s worth it. It would be easy to dismiss her as a typical fairytale heroine – meek, mild, well loved by common folk, despised by her family, down trodden and put upon, stuck in a bad situation which she accepts with passive disinterest – but throughout this story she becomes so much more.
If you’re not familiar with the Goose Girl fairytale, I’ll try not to spoil things for you. Alyrra may have been born a princess, but she certainly hasn’t been raised that way. Though she has no wish to marry a foreign prince, she accepts because there’s a slight chance that life with him might be better than life at home. Then again, she’s not exactly given a choice. In fact her life seems utterly devoid of choices, even when magic steps in and everything she thought she knew is turned on its head. Alyrra accepts the change in her circumstance with the same meek resignation as everything else, but don’t for one moment think it’s because she’s spineless or weak. Instead she’s a girl who been abused and belittled all her life until she doesn’t believe there is any thing of worth in her to fight for.
But she’s wrong. And I loved how Alyrra slowly comes to realise that. Not that she particularly sees herself as being worthy of anything, but her understanding of choices and power and how she can wield them definitely changes. Nor is she stupid as others would claim. She might be quiet, but she’s observant and through her the reader learns much about the people around her and the politics of her world. She also learns the value of trust, something which has been in short supply in her life as too many people have betrayed her. She is cautious and reserved, but through her friends we see just what kind of caring and loyalty she can provide.
True, there are times when I wished she had acted sooner, or at least reacted in some way, but Alyrra has learned the hard way not to draw attention to herself, so it is understandable. And, much though I hated them, the losses she experiences through the story do serve a purpose. The price of inaction and being more prepared to defend both herself and her friends, the cost of justice and the unfairness of social station, the rewards of trust in the right place and the power of believing in herself to do the right thing. This whole story is one giant learning curve for Alyrra, and I enjoyed the way it developed and changed. I especially loved the relationship between Alyrra and Kestrin and how nothing about it is fairytale perfect, despite how they meet and how events turn out.
However, there were a few things that stopped this from being great for me. Falada, much though I adored him, didn’t make a whole lot of sense. A magic talking Horse is all very well and good, but considering how little magic really takes place in the story (and only from certain quarters, despite this being a magical world), his whole presence is a little out of place. Yes, he serves a purpose in being there for Alyrra, providing advice and support and a nice little history lesson, as well as a couple of other pivotal plot moments, but as the only talking animal in the whole book he just didn’t fit. I wanted more about his history too and that of the Horses. His whole storyline felt unfinished to me. I expected something more from it and ended up with nothing more than a convenient plot device.
I also would have liked more about Alyrra’s life once the fairytale was over. Yes, as it stands, this book completes the Goose Girl narrative, and does it very nicely. However, I felt that the Alyrra/Thorn side of things needed more. Her family, Red Hawk, the hostlers, her life at court, even her relationship with Kestrin are all left so open and unfinished. I know not every storyline needs to be wrapped up in a perfect bow, but for me this book is so much more than the fairytale. I wanted to know about Alyrra’s life, not just this single adventure, and although there seem to be more books coming from this world, they’re spin-offs dealing with other characters.
In all, though, this is an enjoyable, beautifully told story that is surprisingly easy to read considering its steady pace and the delayed explanations for the villains’ actions. Alyrra is a compelling heroine who keeps her head and doesn’t do anything stupid, the prince is suitably princely and the world is full of lovely little details that made it feel all the more real. If you love fairytale re-tellings, you should definitely enjoy this. If you like a heroine who grows into herself and proves that real strength comes from within, you should certainly read this. Or if you just like reading well-written fantasy books with great characters and interesting plots that lead you easily through their world – then what are you waiting for? I will definitely be reading more from this author.
Thorn is Out Now!
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