The Heart Hidden Behind The Wall Of Thorns

by Gurpreet Sihat

I start reading eagerly: On the eve of her wedding, a girl paces her room. In her hands, a bag of boar’s blood. She plans to flee the castle by faking her own death. Her sister, a small, sickly creature with a cheery disposition, is to go with her. Wait. Purloined? In THAT sentence? Okay then… The girl is a huntress, but here she is vulnerable. Here, she is being forced to marry a Prince. A Prince she wants nothing to do with, who wants nothing to do with her. Wait, what? A sphenoid bone? Siri, what’s a sphenoid bone? No, not Fernwood bone, a sphenoid bone. Tell you what, I’ll type it in. Google, define sphenoid bone. A compound bone which forms the base of the cranium, behind the eye and below the front part of the brain. Okay. I continue reading. Cerebrum? Sounds like something from X-men. I haven’t studied biology in ten years! Hey Siri, what’s the cerebrum? A large part of the brain containing the cerebral cortex, as well as… okay, okay, okay… Did we even learn that in school?

I wanted so much to love Heart of Thorns. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but when you’re holding a special edition copy of an as of yet unpublished novel, signed by the author with blood-red sprayed pages, and covered in gold thorns wrapped around an unusual map of sorts that lists the hierarchy of angels, certain expectations are automatically set. I waited patiently for the opening chapter to entice me. To stop pushing me out of the novel with words that didn’t seem to fit or biological terms that made me turn to Google and Siri. It didn’t. I urged the second chapter to beguile me. It didn’t. When the third chapter fell short too, I knew it was going to be a struggle to continue reading…

That’s not to say the book itself didn’t have potential. The plot was promising, and that captivation I was desperate for did, eventually, arrive, albeit in the final handful of chapters. In a world where all women are under suspicion of being Gwyrach – half-god, magic-wielding demonesses – Mia is forced into an arranged marriage with Prince Quin, the heir to the throne of the River Kingdom. As daughter of the leader of the Gwyrach hunters, the hunters code burns bright inside her – Heart for a heart, life for a life – now more than ever as her mother was murdered by one. But when her wedding is thwarted by assassins, Mia realises that she is everything she hates and while on the run with a husband she neither wants to accept, nor be separated from, Mia must untangle the secrets of her own past and unlearn everything she has grown to see as fact.

Heart of Thorns is heavy on the description. Barton spends the majority of the narrative telling us things rather than having the reader experience it with the characters and this was a big problem for me. It slowed the pace right down and pushed the reader out of the narrative. Instead of going from A to B to C, we were spending far too much time doing nothing while the characters went off on tangents of thought at X and E and P that you ended up lost in, forgetting what the point was in the first place. Often, these tangents led to the same realisation over and over again. Unfortunately, this also meant that characters that ought to have been memorable (such as Quin’s sister, Karri) were lost in a pit of information and never really got the page time they deserved.

But that ending!  

Those final few chapters were incredible. A perfect twist, characters you’re suddenly intrigued by, a pace that has you on the edge of your seat. All of a sudden, Bree Barton shed her ‘inexperienced writer’ skin and became the debut author we readers of YA fantasy fiction are always on the hunt for. I may not have been enamoured byHeart of Thorns, but Tears of Frost(the second novel in the series, which has an expected publication date of August 20th 2019) may just be the book I was expecting. Here’s hoping!

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