Sorcery of Thorns is young adult fantasy at its finest. Elisabeth, an orphan girl raised in one of the Great Libraries of Austermeer, knows two things – books are dangerous, and sorcerers are evil. She wants nothing more than to become a warden, protecting Austermeer from the powerful grimoires contained in her library. However, when she becomes the only witness to an attack on the library, her life gets infinitely more complicated.
Elisabeth makes a fantastic protagonist. She’s smart and determined but also incredibly naïve, jumping to conclusions and regularly acting without thinking. Having been raised in a library, she knows little of the real world and the consequences of that can be hilarious. She’s also one of the few female protagonists I’ve ever seen described as tall – a refreshing change from the tiny, innocent looking protagonists the genre seems to favour. Elisabeth’s friendship with Katrien was lovely, as was her evolving, convoluted relationship with the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn – her only ally, but also a man who has to be evil – after all, all sorcerers are. However, her best interactions were with Silas, Nathaniel’s enigmatic assistant who’s far more than he initially seems.
Nathaniel contrasts Elisabeth brilliantly. A confident, flamboyant bisexual sorcerer and Austermeer’s most eligible bachelor, Nathaniel saunters through life like a man who has it all – but he’s the only survivor of the Thorn line, a famed family of necromancers responsible for some of the worst crimes in Austermeer’s history. How much of Nathaniel’s personality is authentic and how much is simply to distance himself from that legacy is unclear – but what is clear is that he has a heart of gold and a sense of humour to match. His quips and anecdotes add a much-needed lightness.
This is a young adult fantasy but successfully avoids all the pitfalls of the genre. The romance is slow-building and believable, adding to rather than distracting from the main plot. Elisabeth has aspects of being a ‘Chosen One’ but is definitely the least powerful of the three main characters, so it doesn’t feel like a cop out. The plot has predictable elements but also completely unpredictable ones, with an ending that’s hopeful but not without sacrifice. Yes, there are tropes, but every part feels fresh enough to be highly enjoyable – a credit to Margaret Rogerson’s creativity and writing.
The setting is the highlight of the book – how could a book about magical libraries fail to appeal to bookworms? The idea of dangerous grimoires needing to be locked away and guarded by wardens with swords is excellent. I also like the magic system, with its clear limitations and constraints – there is a price to being a sorcerer after all, and any magic takes time and a great deal of effort.
Overall, this is one of the best examples of young adult fantasy that I’ve read. It takes both familiar tropes and original concepts and combines them into a beautifully readable novel full of likeable, three-dimensional characters and a world you want to live in. Highly recommended.
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster)
Hardback: 13 June 2019
Paperback: 23 July 2020