Genre: Fantasy/Gothic Horror Age Range: Adult Star Rating: 4 stars Series: standalone CW: CSA, bulimia, cannibalism, xenophobia
The last magic practitioners in their small town, and living in house filled with monsters, Marlinchen and her family are both loved and reviled by the townsfolk they work to cure. Their father, cursed to never be satisfied, keeps a tight grip on his daughters; their freedoms, virtues and powers under his control.
But when, chafing at his restrictions, the sisters sneak out to attend the theatre and they hear of two men found dead, rumoured to have been brutally ripped apart, Marlinchen is soon drawn into a situation she never could have dreamed, and that will reveal secrets she’ll wish she never discovered.
After all, can you ever be truly free from the monster that lives inside yourself?
Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
JUNIPER AND THORN is definitely the horror side of fantasy, even if your personal horror line is further than mine. It’s dark and atmospheric, with a magic system that feels very dangerous albeit one that’s no longer as useful due to “progress.” The book is set in a secondary world, within an industrialising city (complete with a city map!)
This is Gothic Horror, so the point is to unsettle and unnerve the readers, to explore topics that are often shunted aside. It’s less about jump scares and more about unsettling the reader for the human reasons as much as the inhuman ones. For a more comprehensive list of the content warnings, have a look at the author’s website.
As well as the more visceral, gory parts of the horror, which are introduced slowly and build up, there’s also this slow, creeping sense of unease. The atmosphere is the thing that really drives the Gothic horror in this, I think. The sense that something is deeply wrong, and not just within the abusive family dynamics, that there is some supernatural element wrongness happening too that ties in (the exact how is a bit of a mystery to be teased out.)
I really liked that there were folklore stories told in full alongside the main story. I really enjoyed that part of THE WOLF AND THE WOODSMAN, so it was a delight to see two more stories recounted in this book. I believe one of them was The Juniper Tree, a Grimms’ fairy story that this is a retelling of (I am not familiar with that story, but if it was, I could certainly see the elements inspiring the book.)
The prose is even more gorgeous than THE WOLF AND THE WOODSMAN. There were just phrases I found myself coming back to and reading again as they stuck out. It was more imagery and really nice cadences, the words just flowing together so well, rather than the “quote that is turned into a graphic soundbite” style.
In all, it’s a very nicely put together, satisfying read, where human horrors and supernatural ones blend into a story that scrapes nails down your spine.
Read my reviews of other books by Ava Reid: