The Book of Thorns: Book Review

Any historical fiction lover who enjoys gothic fiction probably knows Hester Fox's work. But the author's latest novel, The Book of Thorns, will likely be a hit or miss for even the most die-hard Fox fans. This novel is less gothic than previous work and has much more romance, which may be a turnoff for some of her loyal readers. This progressive romance is full of beautiful imagery, creative use of magic, and compelling characters. Dive into this review to discover if this new historical romance novel is for you!

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The Book of Thorns

Quick Look

  • historical romance with magical realism and mystery
  • bisexual rep/polyamorous relationship
  • Napoleonic War era
  • dual POV sister story
  • 🌶️🌶️/5 open-ish door romance

Pub Date: April 2, 2024

Thanks @graydonhouse for the advanced access.

Publisher's Synopsis

Penniless and stranded in France after a bid to escape her cruel uncle goes awry, Cornelia Shaw is far from the Parisian life of leisure she imagined. Desperate and lacking options, she allows herself to be recruited to Napoleon’s Grande Armée. As a naturalist, her near-magical ability to heal any wound with herbal mixtures invites awe amongst the soldiers…and suspicion. For behind Cornelia’s vast knowledge of the natural world is a secret she keeps hidden—the flowers speak to her through a mysterious connection she has felt since childhood. One that her mother taught her to heed, before she disappeared.

Then, as Napoleon’s army descends on Waterloo, the flowers sing to her of a startling revelation: a girl who bears a striking resemblance to Cornelia. A girl she almost remembers—her sister, lost long ago, who seems to share the same gifts. Determined to reunite with Lijsbeth despite being on opposite sides of the war, Cornelia is drawn into a whirlwind of betrayal, secrets, and lies. Brought together by fate and magic at the peak of the war, the sisters try to uncover the key to the source of the power that connects them as accusations of witchcraft swirl and threaten to destroy the very lives they’ve fought for.

My Review

Let me start by saying that I really enjoy Hester Fox's work, and The Book of Thorns is no exception. I love that I can count on Fox for a historical mystery rich with gothic vibes and some degree of magical realism/witchcraft. Her latest is a bit of a departure from previous novels that were much more gothic; however, her brilliant writing and character development still shine in Book of Thorns.

I felt connected to and invested in both sister's, Cornelia and Lijsbeth, storylines and wanted to spend more time with them both, a mark (IMO) of good character development. As noted by several other reviewers, the synopsis is a bit misleading. We're led to believe the sisters know about each other and their powers, neither of which is true. While the reader knows almost immediately that the two women are connected in some way, they do not realize they are sisters until later in the book, leaving you wondering how they will "work together" to resolve the drama.

Given that romance has always been a subplot in other Fox novels I was caught off guard by the amount of romance incorporated into the novel. Despite my surprise, I enjoyed it overall. Even the polyamorous relationship felt progressive as historical fiction goes, and I'm happy to say that I found it believable and compelling.

The fast-paced nature of the book kept me engaged and eager to see what happens next, a commonality this book shares with others by the author. The flower magic was creative and intriguing, and it connected them to their long-lost mother in a way I found moving. Highly feminist and full of beautiful imagery, this is one of Fox's best!

My Review

Fox is a favorite author of mine, so I strongly encourage any historical fiction lover to dive into her backlist. But The Book of Thorns is a bit racier than her others, so know that going in! Anyone who enjoys a steamy (barely open-door) romance with queer rep and magical realism will find this one compelling. The complicated sister story and creative use of magic are worth exploring if you don't mind the added romance. 
2024 historical fiction books

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About Carlie

Hi there! I'm a 40-ish book lover, always looking for the next great read, particularly the best historical fiction. I live in Los Angeles with my fella and our fur babies, Fozzy and Polly. Working from home changed my life. Suddenly, I had time in my day to read again. I love sharing my reading journey here on my website and social media. Be sure to follow along for reading recommendations and honest book reviews.

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