– by Anna Burke

A holiday gift surprise fell onto me lap whilst I was on holiday, courtesy of the very kind and generous Salem West of Bywater Books! (Ta, mate!) Yes, it was in the form of a book (me fav form!)!

Thorn” by Anna Burke.

Never read anything by this author ever before.

Wow. To say the book captivated me was an understatement. I was hooked, lined and sinkered. From the first paragraph. Literally.

Just read this…

“She smelled it, sharp and bitter on the wind.
The pack smelled it, too.
A faint jingle.
A creak that was not bark on bark.
A cough that did not belong to cat or elk.
The old hate quickened.
The pack tightened around her.
Red tongues lolled.
Breath steamed.
Winter bared her teeth.”

Me love for beautiful literary texts in the form of storytelling was instantly satiated by Burke’s aesthetically structured, lyrical passage. And it was only the prologue! So you can just imagine me utter glee…!!! *yes, I’m a shameless nerd of literary, poetic words that flow like lyrics to a song, that’s me! So I knew Burke got me good!*

Thus, another new author was born on me “author to watch” list.

Thorn” is a retelling of the classic fairy tale, “Beauty and the Beast,” with a lesbian twist. Obvs. And just like Karin Kallmaker’s brilliant retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” “Fish Out Of Water,” which became the sole recognised “The Little Mermaid” for me, Burke’s “Thorn” has now become me only recognised “Beauty and the Beast” tale! Yup.

I absolutely loved how Burke told the story of Rose (Belle) and her journey of self-discovery when she inevitably met the mythically feared “beast” otherwise simply known as The Huntress. Burke’s brilliant depiction of Rose’s back story, how she ended up being The Huntress’ “prisoner,” and most compellingly, The Huntress’ own sordid back story that led to the curse cast against her by the witch. I’m sure most, if not all of you, have read or at least heard about the fairy tale if you haven’t watched the film adaptations (most notably the recent brilliantly adapted life-action version starring Emma Watson) already so I won’t elaborate it here.

Suffice to say, Burke took the tale to a whole new fabulously captivating, beautiful story about two women from totally different walks of life who slowly but surely fell in love as they grappled with the truth behind all that happened with Rose and her family and Isolde’s (The Huntress) tragic life since the horrible, life-altering curse which both of them eventually understood the real, heart-rending reason behind what the witch did.

The Huntress. Oh, the Huntress! How I utterly loved her character! There’s something to be said about portraying a dark, mysterious, reclusive, disheartened stone-cold, bitter character who is a lead in a story, innit? And to depict it in a deeply resonating way that cuts through all the impenetrable exterior the character presents so the reader can’t help but gravitate toward those “thorns” (pun intended!) that encompassed the character’s defence mechanism, feeling increasingly empathetic toward them as the story progresses is a whole other level altogether.

In this case, Burke’s richly descriptive words brought the Huntress to life, in all her glory and ugliness, hitting every nail on the head with her soul-penetrating depiction of the misunderstood, tortured character, transforming her from the arrogant, selfish, heartless Isolde who knew nothing about love of another to the hardened, hateful, feared, soulless Huntress and eventually back to a redeemed, renewed, reborn Isolde who finally understood the true meaning of the witch’s curse: “A rose for a rose, a thorn for a thorn.” Her metamorphosis truly transcended the transformative journey of a redemptive soul. Deeply sublime!

I was utterly captivated by Burke’s flowery language, her poetic and lyrical words and expressions that read like a song, with the refrain, “a rose for a rose, a thorn for a thorn,” flowing melodiously throughout like a musical chorus. The world that Burke built around Rose, The Huntress along with the village and its deeply superstitious inhabitants, the fortress, the forest was vividly described to its most minute detail.

Winter was felt in me bones, me soul as I read Burke’s reverberating words turning into lyrical songs that howled the absolute harshness and bitterness of each biting cold, at times with arresting loneliness, but its breadth strangely comforting and intoxicating to the spirit of the soul as the story progressed.

Oh, and the story of the winter rose…*sigh* So utterly romantic, tragic, yearning, beautiful, utterly heartfelt. Burke’s aesthetically dramatic expressions as she repeated its story throughout the Huntress and Rose’s journey flowed like a sonnet, a romantic ballad, really, that touched every essence of emotions fused from every action, behaviour and personification of the characters and the surrounding atmosphere and environment altogether. I was entranced throughout the story even though I knew the fairy tale by heart! Truly refreshing!

Furthermore, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the brilliantly structured action sequences in the book. Every action sequence was so visually described it was like watching the entire book on-screen: Rose’s hunting training, Rose & Juniper’s long slog back to the Huntress’ castle, including the incident with the melting ice (you simply must read it to experience the realism of the scene!), Rose’s power being unleashed in the final act as she came face-to-face with fate. Each scene was thoroughly presented with literary flair.

Rose’s ultimate sacrifice & the witch’s eventual revelation about the true meaning of the curse, her realisation and life-changing epiphany about what her love for Isolde/the Huntress truly meant at the heart of it all were resoundingly portrayed with utter authenticity it was hard to believe it was a fairy tale!

All in all, the moral of Burke’s brilliant retelling of the age-old tale was supernaturally resonating. The lesson about courage, bravery, the uncompromising dare to fight for what you believe in, sacrifice and ultimately, true love, was defined with such realistic fervour that this story will always reverberate in the recesses of me mind.

Thorn” is a resounding MUST-READ. There’s just no way about it! It is me one and only official “Beauty and the Beast” tale that I will recognise. Thanks to Ms. West, Anna Burke is now on me list of new authors to watch. I will be looking out for her books from now on starting with her debut novel, “Compass Rose.” Yup, I am ready!

Get your copy from:

Bywater Books



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