Title: Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher
Published by Tor
Published: August 15, 2023
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Thornhedge is the tale of a kind-hearted, toad-shaped heroine, a gentle knight, and a mission gone completely sideways.
There's a princess trapped in a tower. This isn't her story.
Meet Toadling. On the day of her birth, she was stolen from her family by the fairies, but she grew up safe and loved in the warm waters of faerieland. Once an adult though, the fae ask a favor of Toadling: return to the human world and offer a blessing of protection to a newborn child. Simple, right?
But nothing with fairies is ever simple.
Centuries later, a knight approaches a towering wall of brambles, where the thorns are as thick as your arm and as sharp as swords. He's heard there's a curse here that needs breaking, but it's a curse Toadling will do anything to uphold…
Everything I’ve ready by T. Kingfisher has been excellent, and Thornhedge
is a Sleeping Beauty retelling that I keep thinking about even though I read it back in June. This reimagines Sleeping Beauty
from the perspective of the ‘evil fairy’ of the tale we’re probably most familiar with, and it’s a twist I enjoyed a lot, especially now having read one of her The Saint of Steel paladin romances. Toadling, our fairy who has cursed the princess, was taken by the fairies at birth and given her name by the greenteeth and taught by the hare goddess.
The story opens after two hundred years of Toadling standing sentry of the castle surrounded by a thorn hedge, protecting what’s inside and protecting the world outside. She meets Halim, a soft-spoken paladin who tells her that he ‘mostly came for answers or maybe just the story,’ and the entire book is a reflection on the how truth becomes a story and how story holds threads of truths, and how we reconcile that with ourselves.
Even though the worldbuilding seems small, it is constrained by Toadling’s own view of the world, stuck in the same area for over two centuries and no real interaction with anyone over those two decades until Halim the paladin makes the effort. It wraps up neatly, with sharp violence contrasting with a sense of comfort, but it left me wanting more set in this world and more about Halim, more about Toadling, more fairy tales reimagined in such a way. This has a similar vibe to Paladin’s Grace, so if you enjoy the softer, slower, cozier kind of story that explores something in a vast world from a limited perspective, then I’d recommend The Saint of Steel series that I’m currently reading.
Overall, this is one of my favorites of the year, and one of my favorite reimaginings of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale.
Title: Vicious by V.E. Schwab
Published by Tor
Published: September 24th 2013
Format: Trade Paper
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?
I feel like I rarely give out five-star reviews, but I think V.E. Schwab’s Vicious earned it by the end. It started out a bit slow for me (but that might also be attributed to a little reading slump), but once I hit the halfway mark, I was hooked and couldn’t put the book down. Vicious grapples with the superhero ideas of good and evil, hero and villain, and what results from all of the chaos each of two main characters create.
Eli Ever is the self-regenerating, self-proclaimed hero after discovering the secret behind the creation of EXtraOrdinary people, often called EOs throughout the book. After his best friend Victor Vale becomes an EO, accidentally murder’s Eli’s girlfriend, and goes to prison, Eli makes it his mission to remove other EOs from the population.
The book alternates between the present day with Eli being the ‘hero’ and the past with the beginning of Eli and Victor’s struggle to the present with Eli trying to take control over the EO population and Victor’s escape from prison to get to Eli. The alternating chapters threw me off at first, but then it fell into a really interesting rhythm, as if each chapter set in the past connected with each chapter in the present.
One of the things I like most about Schwab’s stories is that every character feels relevant and feels fully developed. Vicious is a character-driven superhero story about that sometimes very fine line between good and evil and the complexities that each character faces. With obsession driving them both, the hero does some really terrible things and the villain does some really wonderful things. By the end of the book, we’re left with a lot to think about. In the face of adversity, ignorance, and power, who defines what is good and what isn’t?