Review: Kingdom of Thorns

Kingdom of Thorns by Katherine Macdonald does not offer anything I haven't already seen in a "Sleeping Beauty" retelling, so I was hesitant to read it at first. In recent years, it has become traditional for the princess to fight against her curse, so that is something I have always come to expect from modern-day retellings. I even read another version where she uses astral projection to communicate while sleeping so she can still consent to the controversial kiss. Yet, this book manages to hit all the right marks in all the right places, combining everything great about fantasy novels and fairy tale adaptations in a way that's both engaging and interesting. Both protagonists are fleshed-out characters with hopes and fears just like any ordinary person. Their love is so strong and pure that it makes you want to read all the way to their "happily ever after" despite knowing that it's coming already.

Kingdom of Thorns by Katherine Macdonald

Prince Leo is not a hero. He is not prone to slaying dragons or rescuing damsels in distress. Those duties are placed upon his brother, Wilhelm. However, when Wilhelm is tasked with waking a sleeping princess who was cursed for a hundred years with the stipulation that he must marry her, Leo cannot stand by and watch Wilhelm give up the opportunity to be happy with his true love. He volunteers for the perilous quest of rescuing the princess for the sake of his brother's happiness. In order to avoid putting others in danger, Leo dismisses the knights that were sent to protect him when they reach the enchanted forest. Instead, he teams up with Talia, a self-proclaimed guide who is an expert on the many magical creatures of the woods, good and dangerous alike. As he spends time with Talia, he sees her as more than just a guide and hopes those feelings will not interfere with his quest to marry the sleeping beauty.

One hundred years earlier, Princess Briar learns on her tenth birthday that she had been cursed since birth to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel the day she turns 17 and fall into a deep sleep that will affect her entire kingdom. She is angered by the inevitability of this curse and sets out to find every possible way to protect herself from threats, magical and non-magical alike. Her determination befriends her some fairy as well as a group of bandits who teach her how to fight. She becomes even close with the bandits than her own family, and they become her only solace when the inevitable curse takes place. Using fairy magic to watch over the forest as she sleeps, she observes many unworthy suitors who seek glory and fame until the day a humble young prince named Leo appears in her midst.

Though this book is predictable, the romance still makes it an enjoyable read from start to finish. The story is told in a way that allows us to gradually learn about both characters' pasts while they are in the midst of their present adventure. It's an interesting dichotomy to have a prince who is naive and selfless alongside a princess who is worldly and cynical, similar to Hercules and Megara from Disney's 1997 animated film. Over the course of the book, Leo must toughen into a true hero while Talia comes to terms with her vulnerabilities and trust issues. It also contains more fantasy adventure elements than most adaptations of "Sleeping Beauty." The enchanted forest is filled with mythological beings of all sorts including sirens, djinn, nymphs, and giant spiders. I felt like I was alongside Leo and Talia on their fairy tale adventure, wondering what magical phenomenon they might encounter next.

Fairy tale adaptations have the unique ability to tell the same story in a way that can be just as thrilling and new every time. Even though Kingdom of Thorns combines many elements of "Sleeping Beauty" that I have read in other adaptations, it does so in a way that is exciting and fun. One of the most important aspects of a good fairy tale is a strong love story. Where she fails in originality, Katherine Macdonald succeeds in taking two complementary characters who are dripping with chemistry and giving them an opportunity to grow and learn from each other, culminating in the good old fairy tale ending that we know and love.

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