fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewschildren's fantasy book review Helen Lowe ThornspellThornspell by Helen Lowe

As much as I love reading fairytales, there’s always the sense that I’m only getting half of the story. There’s never any character development, explanations on where those magical artifacts come from, or why the bad guys act so villainous beyond the fairly rudimentary: “they’re evil.” In fairytales, things just happen, with little or no back-story.

Which is why I’ve always appreciated authors who consider the missing pieces to any fairytale and fill them accordingly with their own ideas. Donna Jo Napoli has built her career on this technique, with wonderful fleshed-out fairytales such as Spinners and Zel, retellings of the Rumplestiltskin and Rapunzel stories, among others.

And now Helen Lowe gives similar treatment to “The Sleeping Beauty,” telling the tale through the point of view of the Prince. In the fairytale, the (often nameless) prince simply turns up at the end of the story to administer the life-giving kiss. Here, his name is Sigismund and he’s got to work in order to deserve the princess awaiting him.

Young Prince Sigismund also loves fairytales and stories of enchantment, but never expects himself to be part of such a tale. Yet after a meeting with a strange and lovely lady at the castle gates, the arrival of a mysterious new master-at-arms, and a barrage of unusual dreams that haunt his sleep, Sigimund swiftly comes to the realization that he’s a key player in a story that has been awaiting him for nearly one hundred years.

But the wicked faie who cast the spell in the first place is not going to be defeated so easily, and makes sure that Sigismund’s quest isn’t as simple as cutting through some wild thorns to reach the sleeping princess. Sigismund must first contend with her subterfuges and traps, all of which are carefully plotted in order to distract him from his task (and we finally get a better motivation for her actions than the usual “angry at not being invited to the party” excuse!).

Furthermore, Lowe finds a clever way to incorporate the princess into the plot of the story so that she is not simply the trophy-wife to be claimed at the conclusion of the story. Altogether, Thornspell manages to keep the basic plot-points of the original “Sleeping Beauty” fairytale intact whilst wrapping them in an entirely new perspective.

One thing that quickly became apparent when reading Thornspell is that nothing and nobody are what they seem, and there are plenty of twists, secrets and disguises to keep the reader guessing. Because there are so many dreams and visions that Sigismund experiences throughout the course of the book, it is sometimes difficult to tell what is actually happening, and what’s going on inside his head — and yet this seems to be precisely the point, tying in with the theme of the mutability and changefulness of the old stories, and even the setting itself. Thornspell takes place in the distant past, filled with plenty of magic and other fantasy elements, and yet there is mention of historical and legendary figures like King Arthur and Emperor Charlemagne, creating an intriguing blend of fact and fiction that is very much in keeping with the tone of this particular story.

Thornspell is a fairytale, but it’s also the “true” story behind the fairytale, and so there is the sense that this is the definitive version of how the original events played out, events which will inevitably change as time goes by into the story that we know today.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThornspell — (2008) Ages 9-12. Publisher: PRINCE SIGISMUND HAS grown up in a remote castle, dreaming of going on heroic knightly quests while staring out at the forbidden wood that looms to the west. His great-grandfather placed an interdict on the wood nearly 100 years ago, though no one seems to know exactly why. But for those still young or credulous enough to believe in magic, the rumors and stories abound – of an enchanted castle and a sleeping princess cursed by an evil faie. Helen Lowe has spun a grand, adventurous, romantic tale about the prince destined to wake the sleeping princess. This thoughtful hero must delve into a world of mystery and magic to discover the truth of his own fate. Enemies with powers he never imagined abound, sometimes hiding behind a mask of friendship. And an elusive girl haunts his dreams — is she helping him or binding him tighter into a thorny cage? For Sigismund, the truth turns out to be more fantastical than any story he’s ever heard.


  • Rebecca Fisher

    REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.