Juniper & Thorn by Ava Reid

My Rating: 4.5 stars

Many thanks to Harper Voyager and NetGalley for the ARC! This book comes out tomorrow, June 21st 2022.

Juniper & Thorn is a loose retelling of the Brothers Grimm tale “The Juniper Tree,” incorporating aspects of the original tale but ultimately telling it’s own story. Our main character is Marlinchen, the daughter of a wizard who refuses to let her or her two older sisters leave the house. When the three sneak out to attend the ballet, Marlinchen becomes entranced with the male principal dancer. Meanwhile, there is a string of gruesome murders happening in the city, and the penny presses are speculating the murderer may not be human. First of all: trigger warnings. This book features physical and psychological abuse, sexual abuse of children, depiction of bulimia, and violent, gory animal death. So please beware of all that before jumping into this book. Also note, all of this content means that this is NOT a YA book. There’s a trend of labeling all fantasy books by women, especially retellings, as YA. But this is very much meant for an adult audience.

This book is simply spectacular. Reid’s writing is lush, vivid, and perfectly suited to a dark fairy tale like this. I will say, this does make some of the darker scenes even more disturbing. There was a scene featuring animal death that shook me quite hard. I generally stop reading a book when something like that comes up, so it’s a credit to Reid’s skill as an author that I kept going. The book was too good to stop. Her characters are complex and engaging, and I found myself so invested in Marlinchen. I also loved the way she weaved different fairy tales together; while this is technically a retelling of “The Juniper Tree,” she also incorporates some aspects of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” “Cinderella,” Russian folklore, and more.

The one flaw I found with the book was the love story. While I loved both of the characters, I did feel a bit like insta-love to me. To be fair, the initial attraction is clearly portrayed as lust, but it becomes far deeper than that after only a few interactions. It’s ultimately a small complaint since there was so much more to enjoy in the book, but it is something that stood out to me.

Overall, Juniper & Thorn is a wonderfully written dark fairy tale well-suited for fans of Naomi Novik and Gregory Maguire. It’s disturbing at times, but I cannot recommend it enough.

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