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Book: “The Thorns Remain” by J.J.A. Harwood
Publishing Info: Magpie, May 2023
Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!
Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat
Book Description: A dance with the fae will change everything
1919. In a highland village forgotten by the world, harvest season is over and the young who remain after war and flu have ravaged the village will soon head south to make something of themselves.
Moira Jean and her friends head to the forest for a last night of laughter before parting ways. Moira Jean is being left behind. She had plans to leave once – but her lover died in France and with him, her future. The friends light a fire, sing and dance. But with every twirl about the flames, strange new dancers thread between them, music streaming from the trees.
The fae are here.
Suddenly Moira Jean finds herself all alone, her friends spirited away. The iron medal of her lost love, pinned to her dress, protected her from magic.
For the Fae feel forgotten too. Lead by the darkly handsome Lord of the Fae, they are out to make themselves known once more. Moira Jean must enter into a bargain with the Lord to save her friends – and fast, for the longer one spends with the Fae, the less like themselves they are upon return. If Moira Jean cannot save her friends before Beltine, they will be lost forever…
Completely bewitching, threaded with Highland charm and sparkling with dark romance, this is a fairytale that will carry you away.
Review: Here’s another example of cover lust! But I was also drawn in by the fact that I’ve been on a bit of a good run with Fae/Faerie books in the last few months. I gave high ratings to both “The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill” and “Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries”. I was also particularly intrigued by the description of this one and its inclusion of dancing with the Fae. It’s a pretty well-established piece of fairy lore (I’ve always loved the “Seven Dancing Sisters” fairytale especially!) and it can swing either romantic or highly dangerous. With hints at powerfully dark Fae and bargains, I have to guess this one might swing towards the latter. Either way, count me in!
Moira Jean and her friends have always know there was future was to depart their small village and make lives for themselves out in the greater world. As young women, this departure and future would largely be tied to their marriages. But when Moira Jean’s beloved dies in the war, her world is rocked and her future torn to shreds. When her friends go out into the forest to dance and celebrate one last time before they leave home, Moira Jean joins them. There, they are joined in their dancing by the wild and dangerous Fae and one by one, Moira Jean’s friends are stolen away. Now it up to her to rescue them, entering into dangerous bargains with Lord of the Fae who is as mysterious as he is beguiling.
So this book both was and wasn’t what I was expecting. It’s always interesting to see the balance that different authors take with their Fae, some leaning towards the more human and romantic versions, while others delve deeper into the cruelty and danger the Fae represent. This book neatly presents both options, and I think this was probably the biggest strength of the book. There is a romantic plotline, but we are never allowed to forget that the Lord of the Fae is distinctly not human. Furthermore, many aspects of the relationship that Moira Jean develops with him is comprised of supremely unhealthy dynamics, and much of the story is Moira Jean confronting these realities. This is also tied into Moira Jean’s overall arch, one that sees her struggling to define herself and her life outside of the rather co-dependent relationships she has traditionally relied upon.
That said, I struggled with the end of this book. On one hand, I liked the resolution to the romance and how that was handled. But there were many questions left unanswered about just how these actions worked within the larger Fae world and rules that we had been presented with. Further, the manner in which Moira Jean escapes her situation undercut her agency. I wish she had been more actively involved in solving her problems, and I think this would have been the button that was missing on her character arc. The pacing was also a bit all over the place. The ending, especially, felt rushed and thus a bit anti-climatic.
As a character, Moira Jean was enjoyable when she was spunky and active. But there were also times that she read as very annoying and those were the times that it became hard to understand what a powerful Fae lord would see in her. Kind of like the pacing and the world-building, there was such a mix of good and bad elements that I was often left feeling off-kilter and struggling to connect to the story. I think there were a lot of good ideas here, it just didn’t feel like everything came together the way one would want. If you’re a big fan of Fae stories that focus on the darker element of these magical beings, than this book is probably worth checking out. But I do think there are more complete versions of a similar story to be found.
Rating 7: A bit of a frustrating read as I really enjoyed it at times and then, conversely, struggled at others.
“The Thorns Remain” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Books like Hozier songs and Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2023