Review: Juniper & Thorn

Every single part of the synopsis of Juniper & Thorn by Ava Reid massively appealed to me and I knew I would have to read it. Luckily for me, the amazing Laura O’Donnell at Cornerstone and Del Rey UK sent me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This review originally appeared on The Nerd Daily.

A gruesome curse. A city in upheaval. A monster with unquenchable appetites.

As the last true witches living in a city shifting from magic to industry, Marlinchen and her two sisters are little more than tourist traps as they treat their clients with archaic remedies and beguile them with nostalgic charm. Marlinchen spends her days divining secrets in exchange for rubles and trying to placate their tyrannical, xenophobic wizard father, who keeps his daughters sequestered from the outside world. While at night, she and her sisters sneak out to enjoy the city’s amenities and revel in its thrills, particularly the recently established ballet theatre, where Marlinchen meets a dancer who quickly captures her heart.

But as Marlinchen’s late-night trysts grow more fervent and frequent, so does the threat of her father’s rage and magic. And while the city flourishes with culture and bustles with enterprise, a monster lurks in its midst, borne of intolerance and resentment and suffused with old-world power. Caught between history and progress and blood and desire, Marlinchen must draw upon her own magic to keep her city safe and find her place within it.

Publication Date: 21st June

TW: gore, body horror, child sexual abuse, pedophilia, physical and psychological family abuse, incest, death, bulimia and graphic depictions of vomiting, animal death, cannibalism, self-harm, suicidal ideation, antisemitism and xenophobia

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

Juniper & Thorn is one of those books that buries itself beneath your skin and refuses to move. It has captured my mind entirely. 

The Wolf and the Woodsman enraptured me last year, with its gorgeously written, rich and dark adult fantasy that expertly wove elements of Jewish mythology and Hungarian history. Juniper & Thorn goes darker and deeper in a way that entranced me even more. Reid has proven themselves as a stunning spell-weaver and I know I will need their next creation in my hands imminently. 

From the list of trigger warnings, you know this is a dark and heavy book but it is one that I will hold dear to my heart. Juniper & Thorn takes every last drop of tainted blood from the original fairy tales and weaves it into something entirely new, surprising and entrancing. Reid does not hesitate to really delve into the brutal reality of these topics. It is a difficult read at times, but it is one that challenges you and your assumptions around victimhood. This is a grotesque, stomach-churning book that constantly reminds you of the horror waiting to sink its teeth into you. 

This is a horror through and through. There are plenty of moments that really shocked me to my core and reminded me of classic horror scares. I love the historical tradition of writers using horror to explore taboo topics and societal anxieties of the period. Reid pays homage to this in the best way, weaving gore with scenes laced with such emotional fragility and complexity that truly moved me. Yet again, Reid’s strong invocation of grey morality infused the story with a philosophical mediation on the nature of evil and a nature-nurture debate. The rippling effects of trauma and abuse are keenly felt. They are often heart-wrenching and close to the bone. Reid is unflinching in this depiction, showing every last manipulation tactic and internalisation of messages from abusers. The behaviour shown is abhorrent and adds a very human layer to the fantastical horror, reminding us of the monsters living amongst us now. This is not a far-off fantasy, this is lived experience and ongoing actions in our society. 

Reid stunned me into complete silence with this gory, gruesome and nuanced depiction of trauma wrapped inside a pitch-black fairytale. The writing was so gorgeously evocative and enrapturing, full of circling, labyrinthine details and tiny flourishes. It was full of darkness and despair, with a hidden monstrosity behind every line. This is razor-sharp, cut-throat writing that is relentless, yet you cannot tear yourself away. Reid casts their siren song over you and you are forever lost in this intricate, elaborate world.

 I really liked the way they wove in snippets of lore and fairytales as complimentary notes to the main narrative. It added in that intertextual element, paying homage to the original spirit of the Grimms, while also indicating how this is something distinctive and unique. You have the mystic wonder and beauty of the romanticised nostalgia we associate with fairy tales, but Reid deconstructs this to reveal how they enforce societal expectations of the time. Any behaviour outside of this norm is deemed as a monstrous mistake, a harbinger of doom and destruction. Reid demolishes this. Their complex take on morality, particularly in an environment of death or survival, complicates this. Nothing is easy or without consequence. This is a book that mires in that murky space between good and evil, while also reminding you of the true evil lurking in plain sight. Abuse and trauma is explicitly depicted, showing the dark heart of many folk and fairy tales. 

Juniper & Thorn is a book that grabs you by the throat and refuses to let you go, digging in its blood-encrusted nails. Reid weaves the malevolent essence of the original tales with a heartfelt, emotionally raw and vulnerable depiction of trauma to craft something unforgettable.

4 thoughts on “Review: Juniper & Thorn

  1. jordyn says:

    “Juniper & Thorn is a book that grabs you by the throat and refuses to let you go, digging in its blood-encrusted nails.”

    YES YES YES. This book was hard to read, but damn if it wasn’t fantastic. Great review!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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