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Alphabet of Thorn

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  4,439 Ratings  ·  350 Reviews
In the kingdom of Raine, a vast realm at the edge of the world, an orphaned baby girl is found by a palace librarian and raised to become a translator. Years later, the girl -- named Nepenthe -- comes in contact with a mysterious book written in a language of thorns that no one, not even the wizards at Raine's famous Floating School for mages, can decipher. The book calls ...more
Hardcover, 314 pages
Published February 3rd 2004 by Ace Hardcover
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Jul 30, 2012 Algernon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
How do you put together a book of thorns, a three thousand years old emperor, an orphaned transcriptor, a passage through time, and swaths of ancient poetry into simple language? The answer is to let Patricia McKillip do it, with her deft hand at infusing each phrase with beauty, mystery and meaning. With every new book of her that I start, I get a sense of instant recognition, of a stylistic consistency that permeates from one story to another, regardless of the fact that she writes mostl
Dec 01, 2013 Nikki rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
Firstly, I think I've mentioned this before, but oh I love the cover art so much. It's done by Kinuko Craft, who has also illustrated at least some of Juliet Marillier's covers, so that explains why it seemed familiar.

Alphabet of Thorn is beautifully written. It's one of those books where it's less about making things happen, and more about watching them happen -- there is some degree of "stopping things happening", but mostly people fall in love, and do magic, and learn things about themselves,
Feb 18, 2009 Jon added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jon by: SciFi & Fantasy Book Club March 2009 Selection
☆ ĄňŊǡƂėƮĦ ☆ ŞŧŎŋė
I can't finish this book. I stopped a while ago and have kept trying but it is too boring. I'll try again later.
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This book has many of the hallmarks of epic fantasy: a mysterious orphan, a teenage monarch, a shifting point-of-view among several main characters, an existential threat from an enemy with utterly unsympathetic motives. But unlike most epic fantasy, which comes in multi-book sequences, Alphabet of Thorn comprises only about 300 brief pages. Perhaps for that reason, it's only moderately successful.

Nepenthe, a teenage transcriptor in the palace library, becomes obsessed with a mysterious book who
Mar 01, 2009 Robin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Robin by: GoodReads Sci-fi/Fantasy Group
Shelves: fantasy
I'll write a full review when I have more time but a quickie review....

When the book first started I was not "captivated". There were no characters I really fell in love with and the plot seemed slow to get going. That being said I thought the writing itself was very lyrical and poetic and there were a number of pasasages that caught my eye.

I stayed with the book because it was a group read - and around 1/2 way my opinion of it changed. By the end of the book I enjoyed it and was glad I had read
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
This is one of those books I came to reluctantly (for a book club here on Goodreads) and found myself pleasantly surprised by - a bit like the cover, really, which I hated at first and then slowly came to appreciate, especially as you start noticing all the little details in it that correspond so artfully to the story, in particular the city of towers built into the cliff, which you can hopefully see in the background.

Nepenthe is an orphan, found as a baby at the edge of the cliff outside the ro
Sep 13, 2008 Sabrina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, dark-fantasy
Every time I read a McKillip book I know I am in the hands of a master storyteller. Her stories have the weight of history and mythology behind them, even if those histories and mythologies are solely of her own creating. Her writing is very prose-like and works wonderfully for her unique storytelling style. I always feel like I am waking from a dream when I finish one of her novels or coming up for air after being underwater for a long time. It's very disorienting, but I think that's why I love ...more
Feb 22, 2009 Thomas rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Escapists
Shelves: fantasy
Until I grasped the plot, this was a great book. After I got it, I kept thinking that the author should wrap it up. Eventually she does, in a satisfying way. In other words, it's a pretty good book, but be warned that the exposition lasts until the last two chapters or so. Action fans need not apply.
Fantasy Review Barn

Young orphan Nepenthe, adopted into the royal library as a child, works as a translator of ancient texts. While working on commission that appears to be nothing more than a traders list a much more interesting text comes in. Written in an alphabet built around thorns, Nepenthe quickly becomes obsessed, hiding the book from others and seeing things in it that no one else can. Meanwhile the land around her has a newly coronated queen who is already facing a possible rebellion in
Apr 28, 2008 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
There is a lot to this book that I've come to understand as very characteristic of McKillip: thoughtful, considered characters; a semblance, though not full description, of history as a backdrop for the story; mystical realms where magic is fully integrated into the world though also exist side-by-side and, at times, bound to, the purely non-magical. And, most of all, I appreciated Alphabet of Thorn for what I love about McKillip's writing and books the most: her both lack of attempt to describe ...more
Apr 30, 2017 Laura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As always, Patricia McKillip is a dream to read. I love this book so much that I keep trying to pick it up and continue the story and then getting bummed when I remember I finished it already.
Ah, if there's one thing you'll take away from this book, it's the writing. Patricia A. McKillip's prose is quite beautiful, with sweeping descriptions that'll have you in awe, and her light touch that gives everything a surreal and ethereal like feel. It's very befitting of the genre she writes in and I love it.

But I wasn't totally captivated by the story. Most of it was due to the characters. I didn't really connect with them. There isn't really anything bad about them per se. They all have th
Tokio Myers
Mar 25, 2016 Tokio Myers rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Every moment is like a wheel with a hundred spokes in it. We ride always at the hub of the wheel and go forward as it turns. We ignore the array of other moments constantly turning around us. We are surrounded by doorways; we never open them.”

This a perfect example of a fantasy book that has tropes but is short gets to the point and is a fun intriguing read.

Alphabet of Thorn is about a orphan named Nepenthe and the people she is connected to in the kingdom of Raine. Nepenthe finds a document
Nov 08, 2011 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This book... this book crept into my heart and tangled itself around it, not like thorns, but like the embrace of a long lost lover. Patricia McKillip is a sorcerer of the written word. She creates worlds and people that feel alive and real even when everything is soaked up in magic. She weaves stories and poetry and magic together with the expertise of a goddess. There is always something about her books that reaches beyond the ordinary life and shakes your soul awake.

Magic and beauty spill ou
Kari Chapman
This was a hard book to rate. There was some very good parts to the book, but most of it didn't really work for me. I almost put the book down after the first few chapters. We'd met different characters almost every chapter and none of them drew me in. Additionally there wasn't a strong plot line - instead each chapter felt almost disconnected from the others. This gave the book a very dreamy feel, but also left me not sure what was going on with characters that I didn't care about.

However, we t
LynAnne Smucker
Jan 27, 2009 LynAnne Smucker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just a really well written classic fantasy story. One of the great things about this is the description of the library that Nepenthe lives/works in as a translator of strange texts and the richness of McKillip's language. The is a quote about how Nepenthe came to grow up in the library which is below the palace of the rulers of Raine, built into cliffs along the sea. "A librarian had found the baby sitting abandoned on the sheer edge of the world; the librarians kept her. That proved shrewd. Nep ...more
Edward Rathke
Mar 15, 2015 Edward Rathke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic stuff. Structurally, it's really similar to Bards of the Bone Plain, but this is a very different sort of novel.

She's a very interesting writer and it's hard for me to really talk about all the things she does so well. But I love the attention to humanity and all the little details and scenes she uses to fill out her world. I also love how she subverts a few tropes here in very interesting ways. Love the ideas and concepts and worldbuilding.

It's just a very good book. It's not the bes
Feb 10, 2009 Richard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Richard by: SciFi & Fantasy Group 2009-03 Fantasy Selection
(Conceptualizing review.)

This was the Fantasy selection for the Goodreads SciFi and Fantasy Book Club for the month of March 2009. Visit this link to see all of the discussions, group member reviews, etc.

Four most significant characters are women:
Nepenthe, Kane, Vevay, Queen Tessera

Three secondary male characters:
Bourne, Laidley, Axis
Four tertiary males:
Felan, Gavin, Master Croysus

Inexperience portrayed well -- Bourne & Uncle think latter is clever for getting a family mage, but to t
Kyle Muntz
Mar 14, 2015 Kyle Muntz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant--somewhere between fantasy, surrealism, and a fairy tale, with great writing and moments of incredible, transformative strangeness. Reminiscent of early Ursula Le Guin or Katheryne Valente, but (in my opinion) much better than either, and also the best entrypoint into McKillip's writing.

Just wrote yet another long review I'll probably turn into an article for Entropy (yay for reviewing old books!), which is also a discussion of the Michael Moorcock/Joyce Carrol Oats problem: how to re
"You came into my life and not the way a casual visitor might (you know, `without removing one's hat') but as one enters a kingdom, where all the rivers have waited for your reflection, all the roads for your footfall" - Vladimir Nabokov in a letter to Vera

This book really reminded me of that quote. It has this sense of things coming into being and falling into place but in an unwinding and mythical kind of way, where all the pauses in the journey are part of it, rather than in a hectic, call-of
Jackie "the Librarian"
This one enchanted me. A young translator who lives in the library in the depths of a castle (okay, I liked that part right away) comes across an alphabet she's never seen before, and it leads her to another world, and to the rescuing of the man who is her one true love. And a prince.
It started off slow and dreamy, and I wasn't sure if I would like it, but it got better and better and just blew me away by the end!
I enjoyed this book, but I wasn't blown away by it. It tells a story within a story, and I felt that neither had great depth. The characters felt somehow unfinished, rather under-developed and the writing is lyrical but somewhat passionless - almost like a poetic commentary rather than an engrossing tale. The setting is interesting in concept but very static, there's little scenic movement within the story.
The potential was there, but it didn't quite deliver in my opinion.
Feb 16, 2009 Cathy marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
Too vague, not what I was in the mood for. Will try again. Did have wonderful memories of The Riddlemaster of Hed while thinking about it. I still love those books and the main character, even after 25 years.
Oct 15, 2014 Magali rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My favorite thing about Patricia McKillip is the fey and dreamlike quality of her writing, but when reading some of her other books I've gotten so swept up in the prose that it can be hard to keep track of the story underneath it. Alphabet of Thorn gets four and a half stars for striking the perfect balance between design and execution. (I rounded down from five because I'm not yet sure if this book was just well-written, or a new favorite. Time will tell.)

Just before the coronation of a new Que
very distant and very gorgeously lovely, and one of the most female-centric mckillip's books so far (although not my favorite). nepenthe is a librarian foundling, translating obscure texts in the library deep in the castle of raine; tessera is an awkward, shy, floundering new queen; vevay is an old, despairing mage trying to make tessera be more like her father and hold her unruly kingdom of twelve crowns together with an iron fist. none of them are quite what they seem.

meanwhile nepenthe is con
Kathy Davie
Mar 09, 2011 Kathy Davie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
A standalone fantasy novel.

My Take
I'm not sure if it's an alphabet or a language of which McKillip writes. She describes an alphabet using thorny lines but when she writes of Nepenthe analyzing the individual "letters", it sounds more like each letter is a word in a language. A minor detail as the alphabet is simply a background for the tale of the orphan, Nepenthe, and how she and her obsession with the alphabet of thorns affects the lives of everyone around her.

McKillip writes so lyrically of
Jan 11, 2011 Milli rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Looks like this book has plenty of fans and haters both. I'm one of the fans. I thought it was beautifully written, and I especially loved the poems. I liked how the author left some things, such as the nature of Kane's magic, unexplained, which helps the reader suspend reality for a little bit and get lost in her world. And I loved the character of Kane. I've never come across anyone like her in other books and I thought she was brilliant.

I'm giving it four stars, however, because of the horrib
Another beautifully written story by one of my favorite writers.
Obsession. It rules the world and the people who live in it. Sometimes it can even control time itself. If one has enough magic for it.
Some people are obssessed with knowledge. Others with power, and there are others that will do anything in the name of love. Or, for what they call love: "She had finally eased the painful hunger in her heart for Axis."(Kane, on page 163)
Just like a chessboard game played through time, different pie
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Patricia Anne McKillip is an American author of fantasy and science fiction novels, distinguished by lyrical, delicate prose and careful attention to detail and characterization. She is a past winner of the World Fantasy Award and Locus Award, and she lives in Oregon. Most of her recent novels have cover paintings by Kinuko Y. Craft. She is married to David Lunde, a poet.

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“That's the beginning of magic. Let your imagination run and follow it.” 19 likes
“Do you become in visible?'
'No. I'm there, if you know how to look. I stand between the place you look at and the place you see. Behind what you expect to see. If you expect to see me, you do. I listen in places where no one expects me to be.”
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