Anna Burke, By­wa­ter Books (JAN­UARY) Soft­cover $16.95 (215pp), 978-1-61294-143-1, LGBTQ FANTASY

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight Women’s Issues -

It is said that “the Hun­tress rides out when the sun is at its far­thest and Win­ter has her jaws buried deep in the heart of the warm, green world,” but Rowan is skep­ti­cal about this—and ev­ery­thing else about vil­lage life. Her mother is dead, her fa­ther is on the run from his cred­i­tors, and Rowan is pow­er­less to do any­thing but as­sent.

When the Hun­tress ar­rives on the heels of her fa­ther’s hunt­ing party de­mand­ing a rose for a rose, what’s mon­strous sud­denly looks like free­dom. But in Anna Burke’s Thorn, free­dom isn’t the same as mercy, and Rowan must learn to bear its weight.

Burke is adept at im­bu­ing a deep fairy tale with so­cial rel­e­vance. Build­ing on the tra­di­tion of Beauty and the Beast, Thorn gives young women all the lead­ing roles: heroes, vil­lains, and lovers. The story delves into cloth­ing as self-pre­sen­ta­tion, the re­lease from bear­ing chil­dren, the work of self-re­liance, reck­on­ing with a fam­ily or past that no longer fits, the give and take of true part­ner­ship, and the in­ter­linked im­por­tance of self-knowl­edge and love. It does all of this within a frame­work of cas­tles, rugged land­scapes, and for­bid­ding en­chant­ments.

Rowan is a tonic. Her sharp­ness, anger, and pride have a depth that’s uniquely teenaged and com­pletely hu­man. The Hun­tress, Isolde, is Rowan’s op­po­site. Her in­hu­man in­scrutabil­ity, power, and cru­elty are ex­plored with nuance, show­ing the fine, al­most in­vis­i­ble lines be­tween a per­son’s great­est strengths and their per­sonal cor­rup­tion. Their to­tal­ity holds so much po­ten­tial that it’s easy to root for both—each a thorn in the other’s side.

Thor­oughly grat­i­fy­ing, Thorn is a peren­nial es­cape fantasy tan­gled up with a call to ad­ven­ture. Burke turns one young woman’s re­lease from drudgery into a be­guil­ing dis­rup­tion of con­ven­tional so­cial roles, ex­pected di­chotomies, and per­sonal power.

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