Review: The Rose and the Briar

After falling madly in love with J. M. Stengl's Faraway Castle series, I signed up for her Advance Reader List and had the pleasure of previewing her upcoming novel, The Rose and the Briar. This "Sleeping Beauty" adaptation is the third book from Faraway Castle with a few subtle nods to Ellie and the Prince, the first book in the series. It tells the story of Rosa, a young lady with the ability to control plants who is burdened with the task of caring for Zafira, a sleeping princess with dangerous latent powers. Zafira reminded me of the title character from the 2016 horror movie The Curse of Sleeping Beauty, which also featured a powerful Sleeping Beauty character that turned out to be best left asleep! However, this book had a much better protagonist and a far more interesting story. Rosa's unique abilities were a pleasure to explore. They were reminiscent of Poison Ivy from Batman. The love story in the book was also clever and sweet.

There are two versions of the cover for The Rose and the Briar. Though both are just lovely, I'm partial to the first one because it focuses more on Rosa than her dress. Rosa is an ethnic beauty with raven hair, ruby lips, and caramel skin. She takes her task of preventing princes from discovering the sleeping princess very seriously by setting up a series of traps created by plants and trees that she brings to life with her magic. The creative way that she handles her burden makes the story a lot of fun, and her inferiority complex when it comes to Zafira's overwhelming beauty makes her an even more sympathetic character. Rosa also wears a mysterious ring that links her to Zafira, ensuring that she will not slack on her duties. Though Zafira is in a vegetable state for most of the story, she uses the power of her matching enchanted ring to manipulate Rosa in whatever way she can. The rivalry between the two clever beauties is what made this book stand apart from many other princess stories.

I love how all of the book titles in Faraway Castle are subtle nods to the main couple in the story. The Rose and the Briar is a clever metaphor for the beauty of a rose combined with the danger of a thorn, but it's also a reference to Rosa and her love interest. Prince Briar is a different sort of prince from the ones in Ellie and the Prince and The Siren and the Scholar. Instead of coming off as shy and awkward, he is outspoken and charming. Rosa does her best to resist him because she fears that he will learn her secret, but he manages to break through her walls both literally and figuratively until their true feelings toward each other are revealed. Rosa and Briar's relationship reminded me a lot of Aladdin and Jasmine because like Jasmine, Rosa needs to forgive Briar for pretending to be something he isn't. Rosa spends the first half of the story trying to avoid Briar, so their relationship is very playful with lots of fun banter.

The types of creatures that Rosa brings to life with her powers are like something straight out of an animated movie. There's a giant topiary teddy bear that behaves like a real bear and a rose bush that behaves like a dog. When Rosa is uncomfortable with the idea of being able to create life, Briar reminds her that plants are already alive and that she just helps them become more advanced in their capabilities. In that respect, this book has a lot of appeal to environmentalists. Rosa is a great nicer alternative to Poison Ivy. Working as the head gardener at Faraway Castle, she has an extensive amount of knowledge about plants, flowers, and trees. It's such a clever idea to have a character who brings topiaries to life because many of them already look so lifelike!

The Rose and the Briar will be released later this month. I am so pleased to be one of its first readers. It is a unique take on "Sleeping Beauty," and it's the only one I know of with a female protagonist who isn't Sleeping Beauty herself. Rosa's connection to Zafira through their rings created a lot of suspense, and the romance was entertaining and humorous. I recommend this book as well as the rest of the Faraway Castle series to anyone who loves fairy tales and romance. Also, if you're an environmentalist looking for more green-friendly fairy tales, check out my first novella, Elf Princess Roweena!


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