Series: Heart of Thorns #1
Published by Katherine Tegen Books
Published on 31 July 2018
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
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In the ancient river kingdom, touch is a battlefield, bodies the instruments of war. Seventeen-year-old Mia Rose has pledged her life to hunting Gwyrach: women who can manipulate flesh, bones, breath, and blood.
Not women. Demons. The same demons who killed her mother without a single scratch.
But when Mia's father suddenly announces her marriage to the prince, she is forced to trade in her knives and trousers for a sumptuous silk gown. Only after the wedding goes disastrously wrong does she discover she has dark, forbidden magic—the very magic she has sworn to destroy.
I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Mia has been training and studying hard for the past three years in preparation to kill the demon that killed her mother. In Mia’s world, all women are at risk of turning into Gwyrach, powerful, magical women, the spawn of demons, with the power to still a heart and freeze the blood. Unfortunately, Mia’s father, the master Hunter of Gwyrach, has arranged for her to marry the prince of the realm, and at the wedding, the Gwyrach power within Mia blooms and she ends up on the run with the Prince, now the very thing she has been taught to hate, fear, and murder.
Heart of Thorns had such an interesting set up that I didn’t mind what happened AFTER Mia turns into a Gwyrach. Mia was a dedicated Huntress-in-training, studying hard to the point where this is probably the most book-knowledgeable YA character I’ve read since Hermione from Harry Potter. She could recite muscle, tendon, and vein names from memory and casually drop them into her narration, to the point where sometimes I was confused about what action was actually taking place because she’d use the precise name of the muscle without any indication of the actual location on the body, and I wasn’t sure if something was happening with her elbow or her ankle. Her overall mission was to kill the Gwyrach that killed her mother, and apart from mentioning that she was able to stay focused on this, I really don’t want to spoil what happens because it unfolded in such a lovely way that I want to keep that mystery for other readers (which probably explains why the blurb was so vague about the plot).
Apart from Mia, the Prince was also a cool dude who was, I think, bisexual. Mia also had a close childhood friend who was gay, so yay for diversity. There was also several characters with disabilities present which was nice to see because I know some readers whinge about diversity, so there you go, this novel has diverse sexualities, including characters I haven’t mentioned that I don’t want to spoil, and diverse abilities.
One of my favourite parts about the novel was Mia’s realisation of her own internal misogyny towards women. At first, Mia believed women were dangerous and stupid, but if course, she was special because she was going to become a Hunter, like her dad. It isn’t until well into the novel that Mia actually learns about her own misogyny and how the propaganda in her kingdom has led to her culture’s twisted beliefs about women and Gwyrach. This is definitely a feminist novel in that respect, even if on opening at first it seems like ‘every other’ fantasy where women are casually abused at the hands of more powerful men. Mia thinks she’s not like other girls, but it turns out she actually is, and that’s cool not only to realise as a reader but to watch Mia’s own understanding of it as well.
The writing was generally of a pretty high standard, although sometimes I felt like the author was deliberately using less familiar language to show off a large vocabulary. Luckily, I was reading on my Kindle, so I could find the definition of words quite easily, and it turns out in every case where I checked, the word that was unfamiliar to me was actually very specific in its use, so hey, the author was pretty smart in that respect, except that it interrupted the flow of reading to look it up. I’m not dumb either, I have a tertiary degree in English Literature, but maybe I’m just not used to authors being so specific, and right, and less poetic and generic in their writing.
Overall I would say this fits pretty comfortably into the exact kind of thing I like to read: YA fantasy, magical princess coming into own power, with the added bonus of liberal sexual diversity and a narrator who comes to rethink her own beliefs. I enjoyed reading it, and though I won’t be hounding after the sequel, I probably would read it if I could find it in my library.