Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Queer MC, background F/F
PoV: 1st-person, present tense
Published on: 18th April 2023
Maude is the daughter of witches. She spent her childhood running wild with her best friend, Odette, weaving stories of girls who slayed dragons and saved princes. Then Maude grew up and lost her magic—and her best friend.
These days, magic is toothless, reduced to glamour patches and psychic energy drinks found in supermarkets and shopping malls. Odette has always hungered for forbidden, dangerous magic, and two weeks ago she went searching for it. Now she’s missing, and everyone says she’s dead. Everyone except Maude.
Storytelling has always been Maude’s gift, so she knows all about girls who get lost in the woods. She’s sure she can find Odette inside the ruins of Sicklehurst, an abandoned power plant built over an ancient magical forest—a place nobody else seems to remember is there. The danger is, no one knows what remains inside Sicklehurst, either. And every good story is sure to have a monster.
I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
~let girls be Wild
~putting chains on magic never ends well
~a swan prince
~don’t trust the grown-ups
~be careful what stories you tell
It was the gorgeous cover of A Hunger of Thorns that caught my eye, but it was the excerpt of Laini Taylor-worthy prose on its Netgalley page that made it a must-read.
And I’m so glad I requested it (and was accepted!) because truly, A Hunger of Thorns is marvellous.
Wilkinson uses lush, rich prose to deftly craft a world just a sidestep or two from our own; one with cars and power plants, but with (strictly regulated) magic in the form of glamour patches and dresses that never wrinkle. Magic used to be a fiercer, wilder thing, but after years of witches being declared terrorists and put in labour camps – where their mettle, which is both life-force and magic, is drained to make aforementioned glamour patches et al – it’s been broken and tamed.
Or so the authorities want everyone to think.
They tied us up in invisible chains and gagged us with iron and steel. There aren’t many of us left. But you will lead the resistance, as fierce and relentless as thunder. You’ll show those petty warlocks and oath breakers what true power looks like. They will cower before you, grovel for your mercy and your favor. And you will make them pay for what they have done to us.”
Maude certainly thinks of herself as declawed and mundane; when her own magic dried up at puberty (which, alas, happens sometimes) her best friend Odette dropped her and never looked back. But despite that, Maude can’t do nothing when Odette disappears. Armed with nothing but her imagination and sense of storytelling, she goes after her once-friend – even when that means following her trace into a place that can’t possibly exist, and stories that definitely aren’t supposed to be real.
I’m a complete sucker for gorgeous prose, and Wilkinson’s is rich and sweet, absolutely decadent – but I very quickly grew to love A Hunger of Thorns for a lot more than its writing. The story is twisty and toothed – this is absolutely not a book where you can be confident that every grand idea will work, or that every heroic act will succeed – or even that everything is going to turn out all right. Wilkinson delights in setting up the reader’s expectations only to dash them to the floor; so many times, I thought something was about to be resolved only for the story to buck convention again. The only guarantee was that if I thought the story, or part of the story, was about to be concluded, it wasn’t. And that’s something I really love – even if it also had my blood pressure through the ROOF as I worried for the characters!
“I have to.”
I shrug. “It’s what people always say in storybooks.”
Rufus makes a disgusted noise. “That’s never been a good reason to do anything.”
I’m a big fan of let-girls-be-wild, and the parallels between the supposedly-subdued magic and Maude herself were a really lovely touch. Maude has tried so hard to be a Good Girl, fairly vulnerable to the disapproval of authority figures despite being raised by two very fierce women – but then, Maude also saw her mother taken away, punished, and ultimately killed for refusing to follow the rules, so maybe it’s not so surprising that Maude wants to keep her head down and her shoes shiny. Whether she wants to or not, though, A Hunger of Thorns is very much a shed-your-cocoon story; Maude has to be Wild, not Good, to face what she faces and survive it – and I thought her difficulties with that were very realistic. It’s hard to stop being a Good Girl, even when your life depends on it!
But if you stay home all the time, stories never happen. Sometimes you have to break something in order for the story to leak out through the cracks.
That being said, I did think the Let Girls Be Wild messaging was a bit heavy-handed; there are a fair few references and flashbacks to things the school principal (a man, obviously) has said to Maude over the years, and I thought that was a bit clumsily done. The sense Maude has of him, as this big important terrifying figure, doesn’t really come through to the reader, because he’s hardly ever on page. So the effect is more why do we care what this old white man thinks? rather than feeling the pressure to conform.
But if those parts are a bit heavy-handed in the middle part of the book, the climax is flat-out magnificent, and there we really feel the exultation and triumph that comes with flipping the bird to the patriarchy. That was just *chef’s kiss* So I can very much forgive the disjointed be a Good Girl flashbacks, when it all comes together so beautifully and powerfully in the end.
saving princesses requires sensible footwear.
It’s not an easy journey to that end, though. A Hunger of Thorns is surprisingly (and delightfully) complex, far from straightforward, and one of the things I massively appreciated was the way this book is a sharp, thorny reminder that young people are still people. It’s something a lot of adults (bizarrely, imo) forget, and the adults around Maude are very quick to make decisions for her without her input – without even considering that they need it. Even the grown-ups who ought to be in her corner – even the ones who are in her corner – fail or betray her in ways that are all-too-believable, and although it was heartbreaking, it was part of what made this book so powerful. Maude is her own driving force, the driving force of the whole book, and while she does collect friends and allies eventually, I was still struck by how much she felt like a real teen making real, tough, scary calls because she has to. And because she can, and will, and does, because even if she is young she is still a person who can make those calls and determine her own story. She is not incapable because of her age, even if too many adults think she is.
(For the record, as best I can work out, Maude is sixteen or so, maybe a bit younger. She does read more fourteen or fifteen than sixteen to me, but most importantly, she reads as real. I don’t know how to put it better than that.)
And Wilkinson really does go hard when it comes to the failure of even the most well-intentioned adults; of how sometimes you need protecting from the ones who are trying to protect you. (Or who should be trying to protect you.) That struck a deep chord, and it hurt, and it was true.
It was good.
In fairy tales, lost boys get to marry princesses and rule over kingdoms. But lost girls go home and everything returns to how it was. They are grateful to be home and for everything they once took for granted. They swear off adventures for good.
I don’t want to be a lost boy or a lost girl. I feel like my story is only just beginning.
I think this is the start of a series, which is wonderful, because there were a few bits of the worldbuilding that I really want more clarification on – the kingdom of birds??? – and it’s very clear that this is only the beginning of Maude’s story. Honestly, the ending really gives the impression that things are about to go – ahem – nuclear, and I am so very here for it!
This is a beautiful, unexpected, twisty book, with sharp thorns and soft petals. It’s a story about stories: their power, their wonder, bringing them to life (oh is it ever about bringing stories to life); about retelling and reclaiming and reimagining; it is about transcending, not just the stories you tell for fun, but the stories you tell about the world and about yourself. A Hunger of Thorns was not a book I knew to anticipate; it snuck up on me like a secret and a surprise, and it delighted me utterly.
I can only recommend it to you in the strongest possible terms!