Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher (book review).

‘Thornhedge’ is a standalone novella by T. Kingfisher based on the fairytale ‘Sleeping Beauty’.

This is the story of Toadling, sent to bestow a gift on a new baby princess. Unfortunately, Toadling is an anxious creature and, despite lots of training, she manages to mess up and instead creates a curse. She has also inadvertently trapped herself in the human world behind a hedge of thorns and brambles trying to stop every knight that approaches from entering. Sound familiar? It might well do, but this tale is flipped on its head perfectly by Kingfisher.

This was a short book and therefore a quick read and, honestly, I’m sad about that. I found myself connecting with Toadling over the course of the book, along with the other characters we meet. I loved the chats between Toadling and her most recent knight called Halim. They are both just such lovely characters trying to do their best not to hurt anyone. Halim trying to explain all the changes to the human world during the centuries Toadling has lived in the Thornhedge, while Toadling tries to ask questions and not put her foot in it, is just lovely. One of my favourite bits of their conversations is around the story of sleeping beauty being published in multiple books. Toadling had hoped that as people died, the story would be forgotten. She would be absolutely horrified to discover that movies have been made about the tale!

I love that we’re seeing this fairytale not from the traditional princess, knight or prince viewpoint. We’re seeing it from what would usually be considered a side character or even a villain. But seeing things through Toadling’s eyes is wonderful, she feels quite human in her emotions. She is always second guessing herself and thinking that she’s not good at magic, etc. In fact, she has imposter syndrome which is interesting given one of the central points of the book. Apologies for that last sentence being a little mysterious but I don’t want to spoil the story entirely.

Talking of a different viewpoint, the character who would be the traditional hero is quite unusual, too. Firstly, he is Muslim which I’m not sure I’ve seen clearly in a fairytale before, I’m happy to be put right on this point though. Also, he’s not someone who just charge in in traditional knightly fashion. No, Halim is very thoughtful and checks with Toadling that he’s not overstepping or making her uncomfortable. In most traditional fairytales, he would probably have killed Toadling before she even got a word out! He’s just a cinnamon roll of a person.

Some of my favourite fairytale creatures are in this short book and, due to the story being flipped on its head, they aren’t gruesome evil creatures! In fact, they were a big part of the underlying story that you can’t judge a book by its cover, that just because something looks ‘ugly’ or ‘beautiful’, this does not mean they are immediately good or evil. However, when it comes to this book, it looks beautiful and it is also beautiful on the inside as well.

That ending was brilliantly written with everything tied up nicely but with the opportunity for more Toadling books in the future. Honestly, I’m in awe of Kingfisher and her ability to write such a deep book in so few pages. Overall, I loved this book and I’ll definitely be picking up more T. Kingfisher books. If this is and example of their work then I think I’ve found a new favourite author!

Sarah Bruch

August 2023

(pub: TOR, 2023. 116 page hardback. Price: $26.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-25024-409-3)

check out website: www.tor.com

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