Review: “Princess of Thorns” by Stacey Jay

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After loving Of Beast and Beauty by Jay (even with the very Unfortunate Implications the book had), I was excited to read her take on the original Sleeping Beauty tale, in which Aurora has two children and an ogre mother-in-law.

I can definitely say this is one of the more creative takes on Sleeping Beauty that I’ve read. The focus on the children and their plight was a very smart move. It’s honestly kind of a wonder that no one thought of fleshing out this fairytale by focusing on the two children and an ogre who wants to eat them; all the groundwork is there for a great fantasy story.

That being said, I originally began reading this in the beginning of September — and then after getting a few chapters in, I put it down for a month and didn’t pick it back up. While the prologue with Aurora and her mother is a heartrending opening that caught my attention, the rest of the beginning fell flat for me. There was a lot of repetition of facts that felt like very clumsy foreshadowing. A lot of internal angst is had by both Aurora and Niklaas about their own various problems, and how they’re using the other as solutions. This is fine, but if I had to read one more paragraph about how “Aurora could never be the one he married” or Niklaas worrying over his impending fate, I was going to be very unhappy.

Then, on a whim and because I knew it was releasing soon, I picked it back up. I literally skipped the chapters I’d already read — mainly because I remembered what happened enough I knew I could get along without rereading, and also because I did not want to go through the repetitions again — and I was just fine without them. There are only a few things set up in the first 40 or so pages that I needed for the rest of the story; the rest was literally just Aurora and Niklaas arguing and then angsting over their problems.

But in the end I’m glad I stuck with the story, because despite the very underwhelming beginning, after the repetitions finally stop, the story immediately picks up its pace and stays on course for the rest of the novel.

I kept reading because of Aurora. Her situation was dire enough that I legitimately wondered how it would turn out for her, and I enjoyed her personality. Yes, she’s arrogant and stubborn as a mule and quick to anger, but she’s also kind hearted and passionate about doing what’s right. Even if her biggest desire is revenge on the ogre responsible for her mother’s death, Aurora doesn’t lose sight of the fact that she’s also responsible for her brother and for the people in her kingdom. I love complicated young female characters like this, and I appreciate how Jay isn’t afraid to have her characters be fully realized people, with big faults and who occasionally do very, very bad things.

Niklaas took longer for me to warm up to. I’m usually all for a snarky, over-confident guy who’s using his humor to hide his own despair and hopelessness and fear of his future, but I didn’t really start caring about him until a little further into the novel. Part of this, I think, is because while I like his character type, I don’t tend to like bickering romantic couples. It has to be very well done for me to like it, because so often authors just use it as a cheap and easy way to get character development in. Niklaas and Aurora argue so much and get on each other’s nerves intentionally that, even though there were honest moments of chemistry between them, I wasn’t wildly in love with them as a couple either. Mostly because I really just wished they would sit down and talk to each other. There really was no reason Aurora had to hide her fairy curse from Niklaas at the end except to make the plot work.

Unfortunately that left me feeling more than a little frustrated when I’d previously been enjoying the novel. At that point, it’s clear they’ve both been lying to each other quite a lot, and they both know it and know they should do better. But then they don’t. By that point in the novel, they should have. But because the story required a certain plotline to get to the ending, they didn’t sit down and have a conversation about it.

This left the resolution of their relationship feeling a little rushed and rocky, because they have all this baggage to unpack and have to learn how to talk to each other, but they don’t during the course of the novel. The ending is literally one character avoiding the other as much as possible and then trying to leave, with the other one following them in a mad rush to beg them to stay with them. I know they’re young and I know I shouldn’t expect perfection, but if you’re trying to get me to root for them, you should at least have them mature a bit and figure out how to talk to each other instead of repeating their mistakes over and over again for drama.

There was also an issue with some clarity being needed on what, exactly, Aurora’s curse was. It’s never stated outright or explained in detail, so I kept waiting for an explanation and never actually got one before it became a big issue in the novel. Maybe I missed something, but it left me feeling a little confused.

The ogres also felt underdeveloped. We have some POV moments with the ogre queen, and some of them are truly horrifying, but as a whole I would have liked more. The ogres are a constant threat to Aurora and Niklaas, but when the real villain is revealed, I was like, “they’ve only shown up in the narrative like three times up to now.” As much as I very much felt the threat they possessed towards not only the main characters but the entire world, at the end they kind of fizzled out.

And this is a very small personal problem, but a problem nonetheless: There are mentions of how gay relationships are very much Not A Thing in their world, and when a woman tries to seduce Aurora, believing her to be a prince, we have a literal moment of “no homo” between the two when the truth is made clear. It’s also mentioned Niklaas fell in love with Aurora when she was dressed as a boy, but it’s not elaborated on past making Niklaas vaguely uncomfortable. Sure, we can have ogres who literally eat souls from humans (including a baby in a very uncomfortable scene that had too many shades of an anti-abortion ploy), but goodness forbid we have openly accepted gay people.

And a nitpick: There’s a part in the novel where we meet another character who takes care of Aurora for a bit, and it’s revealed she’s another fairytale character currently acting out her own fairytale off-screen. The way this was revealed was so awkward and info-dumpy though that I rolled my eyes and went, “Yes, okay, I see you’re setting up your next fairytale novel. Please stop hitting me in the head with the anvil.”

Honestly, for all that I’m complaining, it makes it seem like I didn’t enjoy the novel. I did while I was reading it, but now that I’m looking back on it, I’m realizing there are a lot of problems with it. Did I still enjoy it? Well, yes, for what it was. I was invested enough to stay up late finishing it, even though I was severely exhausted and needed to be up early the next morning.

So I guess Princess of Thorns will be a love it or hate it kind of novel. For those who don’t mind the certain tropes at work here, they’ll probably like it more than I do at the moment. There’s some good stuff to recommend it, but right now, the bad stuff outweighs it for me. But I’m not sorry I read it, and I’ll still look into Jay’s future works.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
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Miranda works at a library and can often be seen stalking through the shelves. She lives in a house full of cats and books in the suburbanland of Oklahoma.

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