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Juniper & Thorn

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Horror (2022)
From highly acclaimed, bestselling author Ava Reid comes a gothic horror retelling of The Juniper Tree, set in another time and place within the world of The Wolf and the Woodsman, where a young witch seeks to discover her identity and escape the domination of her abusive wizard father, perfect for fans of Shirley Jackson and Catherynne M. Valente.

A gruesome curse. A city in upheaval. A monster with unquenchable appetites.

Marlinchen and her two sisters live with their wizard father in a city shifting from magic to industry. As Oblya’s last true witches, she and her sisters are little more than a tourist trap as they treat their clients with archaic remedies and beguile them with nostalgic charm. Marlinchen spends her days divining secrets in exchange for rubles and trying to placate her tyrannical, xenophobic father, who keeps his daughters sequestered from the outside world. But at night, Marlinchen and her sisters sneak out to enjoy the city’s amenities and revel in its thrills, particularly the recently established ballet theater, where Marlinchen meets a dancer who quickly captures her heart.

As Marlinchen’s late-night trysts grow more fervent and frequent, so does the threat of her father’s rage and magic. And while Oblya flourishes with culture and bustles with enterprise, a monster lurks in its midst, borne of intolerance and resentment and suffused with old-world power. Caught between history and progress and blood and desire, Marlinchen must draw upon her own magic to keep her city safe and find her place within it.

368 pages, Hardcover

First published June 21, 2022

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About the author

Ava Reid

4 books2,108 followers
Ava Reid is the author of critically acclaimed and bestselling adult fantasies Juniper & Thorn and The Wolf and the Woodsman, as well as the forthcoming A Study in Drowning, her young adult debut. After obtaining her degree in political science from Barnard College, she moved to Palo Alto, where she continues to haunt university libraries.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,904 reviews
Profile Image for Marquise.
1,750 reviews613 followers
July 24, 2023
UPDATE II: This YouTuber by the username of Reads with Rachel has decided to use her channel as a bully pulpit and use my review for her own ends, without even disguising my identity, as despite her hypocritical disclaimer that nobody should come to my review to speak on her behalf, there have been people who have come FROM HER CHANNEL AND NAMING HER AS THE SOURCE to attack me.

Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aEPv...

That's online bullying, which can't be tolerated and will be reported to Goodreads and YouTube. Rachel has an account here and could've engaged me in debate, but instead chose to make an episode that has resulted in harassment of my account for months.

Thank you for that, Rachel, your bullying has done its work, but I'm not going to back down or delete this review and I hold YOU responsible for the trolling and aggressive messages I've gotten recently.

My response to Reads with Rachel's excuses in the comments: 1, 2


The blurb for this book does describe the plot pretty well, it's indeed a dark fairy tale-inspired story that included serial murders and a family of witches living under the oppressive tutelage of their mage father, from whom they want to escape and enjoy life and love. The world it's set in is pretty much Russia just barely varnished with a layer of magic and new naming that doesn't quite obscure the real inspiration.

I've been trying to enjoy this author's retellings since her début, and this is the second time in a row that I fail. I simply cannot connect with her characters and stories no matter how much I try, and it's frustrating because Ava Reid's playing ground of choice is Slavic lore. I like Eastern European fairy tales a lot, so whenever a book is announced with a blurb stating it takes its inspiration from Eastern European tales, I pay attention. I keep expecting another Katherine Arden or Naomi Novik, and instead they give me disappointments like Jumiper & Thorn.

Besides that, another catch is that Ava Reid's prose is lovely. She definitely knows how to write, her command of imagery and mood and feels is superb, and the flow of her words is smooth. That's another reason to want to love her books so hard.

And yet, the characters and the plotting proper are her weakness. There's no sense of moderation, no sense of directing her train of thought consistently, no good grasp of character progression, and above all, little command of plot structure. That eventually ends up harming her stories, because pretty words and on-point mood can only do so much for a book.

The most off-putting aspect in Juniper & Thorn is the crass oversexualisation, and it starts too early, practically in the very first chapter, that starts with Marlinchen, the protagonist, slipping away with her sisters to the ballet and instantly lusting for the primo ballerino the minute he comes into the stage, drooling over Sevastyan's chest hair, the outline of his groin, etc., and ends up with masturbation. And it doesn't stop there, everything from sexual assault to paedophilia to incest is thrown at us without warning from there on, and whilst I'm not a stickler for trigger warnings, the excessive amount of triggering this book can set off merits saying that there should've been better warning for readers. Readers need to know what they're going to find here, and they weren't given fair warning because many, like me, didn't see any warnings when they asked for the book for review. We thought it was a Gothic fairy tale retelling with dark twists, exactly as the marketing specifies. But it's been revealed that its contents aren't the usual fare for retellings, and it should've been clarified.

The oversexualisation takes away from the story, because Marlinchen and Sevas can't seem to be able to have a healthy interaction that's not immediately jumping into bed or involving sex in every single chapter. They're like traumatised rabbits that only know to couple whenever they're in the vicinity of each other, with little in the way of building up a relationship, and you end up wondering what exactly the story is here. And the descriptions are always tacky and ordinary, because the author doesn't write sex scenes well, and when you add to it the unnatural and criminal aspects (rape, paedophilia), it ends up wearing you down so badly the temptation to stop reading is irresistible.

I did finish the book, however, optimistically hoping it'd get better. It did not. Reid went overdrive with the body horror, adding an excess of gore and bodily functions to the excess sex, so it turns unpleasant very quickly, it grosses you out reading all the vomiting, all the guts out, the blood... I'm not squeamish in the slightest, but this was too much even for my strong stomach.

In the end, that was sold to me as a dark take on the Grimms' "The Juniper Tree" turned out to be a Jack the Ripper copycat with an emphasis on the gore and the sex and grossness, neglecting the plot and the characterisation. I really wish there had been more emphasis on the characters and less on the shock for shock's sake, as well as better marketing, because as with the first book, it promised more than it delivers but this time with the addition of needless triggers and titillation.

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Robin.
327 reviews1,833 followers
June 27, 2022
↠ 5 stars

Marlinchen is a witch, youngest of three daughters to a cursed wizard, living out her days in a city transforming from magic to industry. Last of the true witches in all of Oblya, she and her sisters cling to their gifts, which are little more than entertainment to the general populace and an asset to their father. Sequestered within the walls of their home, Marlinchen spends much of her free time placating the unending appetites of their authoritative father and utilizing her gifts to discern the truth from her clientele. The evening brings escape, as Marlinchen and her sisters creep into the city to partake in its revels and observe the captivating ballet theatre. These nighttime escapades offer salvation, but when Marlinchen captures the attention of a ballet dancer just as lost and isolated, her visits to the outside world become less uncommon. Entangled between the rage and hunger of her father, and her own desires, Marlinchen is caught in a snare, and the cost of freedom may be far more monstrous than she ever imagined.

When I heard that Ava Reid had written a gothic horror retelling of The Juniper Tree, there was nothing I wouldn't do to read it at the soonest possible chance. Having absolutely worshiped her adult debut, The Wolf and the Woodsman, this novel promised to ruin me without remorse as much as its precursor. True to the fact, Juniper & Thorn is utterly gruesome, vividly capturing a darkness and horror that lingers down dark halls and underneath floorboards waiting for the prime moment to sink in its teeth. Reid is masterful at their craft, seamlessly blending horror and fantasy together in a story completely grotesque and illustrative of a blooming rose clouded among thorny brambles. Every sentence in this novel is striking, with imagery and prose that threatened to devour me whole. In time with the story, lore and fairytales play an important part in the main narrative, intersecting the vein of Marlinchen’s character development and the understanding of her own situation. These sporadic fairytales were definitely some of my favorite parts of the whole book, getting after the core themes and relationships between the main characters. At this point, Reid's capability for writing complex relationships is unquestionable, particularly ones that are nuanced and not simply good or bad, yet those you cannot help but love all the more. Three characters that come to mind are Marlinchen and her sisters Undine and Rose, as they endured years of abuse at the hands of their father, and impacted one another in continuously damaging ways. In turn, Marlinchen’s love interest Sevas was entirely endearing and latched on to my heart as the two attempted to escape their situations. A captivating gothic horror with a brutal design, Juniper & Thorn is imbued with memory, an examination of abuse, and survivorhood in all forms.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this arc in exchange for an honest review

Trigger warnings: violence, emotional abuse, gore, blood, death, murder, body horror, cannibalism, eating disorder (bulimia), vomiting (graphic), sexual assault, antisemitism, xenophobia, drug use
Profile Image for Samantha Shannon.
Author 29 books21.4k followers
March 30, 2022
I was already a big fan of Ava Reid after being thoroughly enchanted by The Wolf and the Woodsman, but Juniper and Thorn has cemented them as one of my favourite authors.

Their sophomore novel is a Gothic horror, set in a city struck by the unstoppable wave of industrialisation. Here, a cruel wizard endlessly hungers under a curse, and his three daughters try their best to survive him.

Reid captures the grisly darkness of The Juniper Tree – one of the Grimms' grimmer offerings – while leaving room for moments of wonder and sweetness. Marlinchen is a deeply layered and interesting protagonist, and Reid writes her trauma, endurance and defiance with tremendous compassion and care.

Now to wait (im)patiently for A Study in Drowning . . .

Note: I received a free Advance Reading Copy of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for Ava Reid.
Author 4 books2,108 followers
January 4, 2022
As we are approximately six months from publication and advance copies are beginning to find their way into readers' hands, I would like to take this moment to provide content warnings for Juniper & Thorn. The last thing I want to do is cause serious psychological harm to readers whose traumatic experiences mirror those depicted in the book.

At the same time, I ask that readers, particularly those who do not personally identify with these topics, not pre-judge the book based on content warnings. Nuanced depictions of uncomfortable subject matter have always been crucial to literature - one of the most valuable elements of fiction is its capacity to explore these subjects, shine a light on topics that are traditionally stigmatized, and elevate the voices of those who have been historically silenced.

If content warnings are used as a sort of classification system for books, rather than for the intended purpose of protecting vulnerable readers, then the net effect is only to further stigmatize these topics. Juniper & Thorn is a horror novel. It is meant to shock, unnerve, and generally to provoke intense emotional reactions; these are the hallmarks of the genre. Many readers and writers find a certain comfort in a genre where these reactions are valued rather than maligned, and this is one of the reasons I was drawn to the gothic horror tradition. Please keep in mind: something that is repugnant to one reader can be life-saving for another.

A book is more than the sum of its trigger warnings. While I strongly condemn the pressure many authors have been put under to trot out their trauma as justification for the content in their works, Juniper & Thorn comes from a deep place in my heart. It has eaten at me (no pun intended - okay, a little pun intended), and I hope that, in some way or another, it eats at you, too.

So, without further ado, the content warnings for Juniper & Thorn:

Gore and body horror
Child sexual abuse; incest
Antisemitism, xenophobia, and scientific racism
Physical and psychological abuse by family members; gaslighting
Self-harm and suicidal ideation
Bulimia; graphic descriptions of vomiting
Animal death
Profile Image for Shelley Parker-Chan.
Author 5 books3,357 followers
March 30, 2022
Astonishing. There’s nothing about this book that I’d even think of changing—it’s a dark, terrible fairytale brought to perfection, and every element feels both classic and infinitely applicable to the now (it does go unflinchingly and truthfully into some very dark places, particularly with regards to domestic violence and child sex abuse, so be warned). In its atmosphere of unfolding horror (of powerlessness and abuse) and dread (of violence, of new and repeated cruelties), it reminded me a lot of Elana Arnold’s Damsel—but the setting, where modernity has violently crashed into traditional places and lifestyles, ups the complexity and makes this a multi-layered masterpiece. I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.

Note: I received a free Advance Reading Copy of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for Ashlee » libraryinthecountry.
781 reviews679 followers
October 20, 2022
Wow, wow, wow this book. I’m a feeling a lot of things after reading it, but most of all I’m feeling seen. This book was like stepping through the halls of my soul. It resonated so deeply with me, and feels like a great big “YOU MATTER” in so many ways. ♥️

First of all, Juniper and Thorn is an adult gothic horror fantasy. Don’t let “retelling” lead you to believe this is a whimsical fairytale. There are certainly fairytale aspects of the book, but The Juniper Tree is already a dark story, and Reid reimagines it in ways that only they could do (and they do it well!). One of the purposes of the horror genre is to leave readers unsettled and if you feel that way after finishing this book, all I can say is: Good! Mission accomplished!

Personally, I delighted in every bewildering moment of it. Again, it resonated deeply with me and I think many who have experienced similar traumas and violence will feel the same way. I greatly appreciated the way Reid carefully and accurately represents the effects of sexual trauma, particularly through Marlinchen’s intrusive thoughts and fixation on specific body parts, which tend to be hypersexual in nature. This is a very common behavior and even coping mechanism in folks who have experienced sexual trauma and violence, especially CSA. (There are reviews out there clutching pearls over this and making it out to be gratuitous or gross or unnecessary or disgusting, and simply put, it’s disappointing and disheartening to see, as someone who actually lives these types of thoughts and behaviors. What do these statements say to people who live this everyday? It’s not helpful rhetoric on SA or CSA, and completely misses what I feel is one of the central themes of this book. Again, reminder here that this is a horror book borrowing from an already horrifying story.)

Reid has been frank and open about how much of this book reflects their own experiences and I felt like they handled that portrayal through the perspective of a main character masterfully. Simply put, it’s not something we see often in genre fiction. Characters who go through similar experiences are supposed to Get Good With A Sword™ and slay dragons and topple evil and dismantle authoritarian governments. Rather, Marlinchen isn’t a character that’s going to lead a rebellion or sacrifice themself for the greater good or take down a ruthless king. Instead she felt REAL. Marlinchen is smart and resourceful and has an innate desire to not just survive, but to live and experience everything the world has to offer.

And when she meets Sevas and they discover how much of their experiences mirror one another? *chef’s kiss* Marlinchen and Sevas have both been treated in unspeakable ways by the people they should be able to trust and rely on more than any one (common for those who have experienced SA, particularly CSA), and there’s an innate beauty in seeing Marlinchen and Sevas them come together and discover how much power they hold and feed into the other.

There is satisfying romance to root for throughout this book as well and it balanced the horror themes well. Sevas is the himbo fantasy love interest I didn’t know I needed, but I’m taking him home with me! You saw it here first!

Simply put, Juniper & Thorn is a dark book with dark themes and dark consequences. It’s a story of two souls valued only for what they can do, rather than who they are, and the unraveling of the world around them that happens when they stand together.

Again, if this book leaves you feeling unsettled, then it’s done what it’s supposed to do!

I won’t get into a long list of trigger warnings on this book because as a horror novel, it’s safe to assume there will be potentially triggering content. Pointedly, there is depictions of (childhood) sexual assault and trauma (both post experience and seen through flashback), body horror, gore, bulimia, animal death, violence, and more. If you’re at all familiar with The Juniper Tree, then it’s safe to assume this book has a similar level of content. Finally, this is an adult novel.

Between The Wolf and the Woodsman and this book, Reid has found themselves solidly in my favorite fantasy authors and I’m looking forward to everything that comes from them in the future! This book was a win in so many ways for me, and I feel as though I’ve found a kindred soul in Reid’s storytelling.

Original, Cover Reveal thoughts:
This book had me at "baroque Gothic horror" but I stayed for that INCREDIBLE cover. It is giving me all the feels and I am ready to get lost within the dark halls and brambles of this book.
Profile Image for Laurens.Little.Library.
333 reviews2,980 followers
December 29, 2022
Update! Adding in what I wrote for the Washington Post article I was featured in:

“Juniper & Thorn” reimagines the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “The Juniper Tree,” one of their darkest and most violent fables. Reid leans into Hungarian and Jewish folklore to tell the story of a third daughter trapped in a meagre life by her cursed, tyrannical father, a xenophobic wizard. After slipping away with her sisters to see the ballet, she stumbles across a young man whose deepest desires mirror her own, setting in motion a painful journey toward emancipation. I knew I was reading something special when I found myself scribbling in the margins at 3 a.m., unable to put the book down. I’ve read more than 150 novels in 2022, and nothing comes close to “Juniper & Thorn’s” rich and often vicious imagery. In an era when far too many fantasy novels suffer from unnecessary bloat, this book is the antidote; Reid doesn’t waste a single sentence.

Also, I did indeed make a video essay about the central motifs in Juniper & Thorn:
Watch part 1 here
Part 2 here
And part 3 here


Will I write a thesis on this? Honestly, probably yes. (In video essay format, obviously 😉)

When I do, I’ll update this review. But I guess I’ll leave you with this: I cannot disagree with the 1-star reviews of this book more. And I will be compiling my arguments for you in a TikTok. Watch this space xx
Profile Image for Brend.
346 reviews438 followers
August 7, 2023
This was so fucked up! I loved it.

Visceral and twisted, burried deep within the heaviness of confronting the truth that was always at reach but too dangerous to touch.

Following the plain-face, too-dutiful, third-daughter of the last living Wizard in this land, we're swallowed whole by a story of loveless existences and the power in escapes. One can find self-love in the strangest of places, sometimes the darkest.

This is a perfect example of how to handle seriously disturbing things and actions while being able to keep your audience engaged.

I know not everyone will like this and that's partially because everyone's got different taste but, particularly this time; because when we deal with stories containing such hard themes, not everyone can push through certain things. And that is okay; so please remember to read trigger warnings for this story (!!!)
Profile Image for Lexi.
137 reviews2 followers
April 21, 2022
TW: Gore, excessive blood/bleeding and body horror; Sexual abuse, pedophilia and child sexual abuse, incest; Cannibalism; Antisemitism, xenophobia, and scientific racism; Physical and psychological abuse by family members, gaslighting; Self-harm and suicidal ideation; Bulimia, including graphic descriptions of vomiting; Animal abuse and death; Mentions of childbirth (off page); Sex, both on page and mentioned; Death, both on and off page


As the last true witches of Oblya, Marlinchen and her sisters, Rose and Undine, are trapped in the gripped of their overbearing wizard father. As the city of Oblya veers away from its magic roots and industry grows, their fathers grip on the girls and their magic grows tighter and tighter by day. But by night, Marlinchen and her sisters sneak from their home to see the wonder of the city. As Marlinchen’s late night escapes grow more frequent, spurred by her lust from a local ballet performer, the stakes grow higher. A monster lingers in the streets of Oblya, waiting to pounce. Marlinchen must keep her city safe while trying to find her new place within it.

While I wasn’t super enamored with Ava Reid’s debut novel, The Wolf and the Woodsman, despite the hype around it but the summation of this book truly called to me. Gothic horror fairytale retellings are one of my absolute favorite genres, so I truly expected to love this one but oh boy, was I unprepared for what was to come.

While the author was kind enough to post content/trigger warnings on Goodreads, no such warnings were posted in the listing on NetGalley, so I was horribly overwhelmed by the content, as I had no warning of what to expect. The bulk of this book focuses on traumatic family abuse, both physical and psychological, mentions of sexual assault of adults and minors and heavily features anti-Semitic views. It’s not until the last quarter or so of the book that the bulk of the horror and gore is present. This book was extremely triggering and I truly hope the final copy lists these triggers more clearly so no other reader experiences the content without fair warning.

Triggers aside, I was completely underwhelmed by the actual content of the novel. While you could clearly see where the author pulled inspiration from The Juniper Tree, it is by no means a retelling, just inspired by at best. Marlinchin as a narrator did nothing for me, overly meek and dismissive in the face of her abuse and the romance between her and Sevas felt like two traumatic people falling for the first person they meet outside of that trauma. No build up in the romance, just zero to love. Marlinchen’s development as a character is sudden and underdeveloped. The redeeming characters of the novel were Rose and Undine in the background, the development of their cruelty from their trauma was so raw and well presented. The plot and world also felt underdeveloped and carelessly thrown together.

Overall, my biggest issue with this book was how oversexualized it was. I lost count of how many times Marlinchen became hyperfocused on someone’s nipples and if the author had used the words “maidenhead” or “seed” one more time, I probably would have thrown my Kindle across the room. The plot was completely vulgar at points and I put the book down several times, completely nauseated by the content. Nothing about the original fairytale required that level of sexualization. That may be a purely personal preference, but again, I was not prepared for that at all.

I gave the book a generous 2 stars because I know some of the faults and issues were my own personal preference, but this book did not do it for me.
Profile Image for EmmaSkies.
162 reviews3,398 followers
May 25, 2022
I haven’t had a five star read in almost six months and THE DROUGHT IS OFFICIALLY OVER. FIVE [VERY WEIRD] STARS.

Reading Juniper & Thorn is like reading a very dark old Eastern European fairytale in the best possible way. The writing in this book is what made me rate it 5 stars because...oh my god. It's haunting and poetic and beautiful and dark and it just sucks you right in and doesn't let go. Ava Reid's prose is incredible.
(It has just now come to my attention that this is a retelling of the Grimm fairytale The Juniper Tree, so the whole "reads like a fairytale" thing makes a lot of sense now.)

I don't even know how to rate or review the story (I'm terrible at reviewing books I loved, I just love them). I have quite literally had this unfinished review sitting open in a tab in Chrome for 3 days while I try to figure out what to say.
Juniper & Thorn is the story of a young witch whose life is confined to a family that mistreats her and a father who terrifies her in a rapidly changing world where her family's brand of magic is little more than a tourist trap of the Old Ways. It is about isolation and the desire to be free warring with the fear of the unknown. It's about all the ways an abuser exerts control over their victims in an effort to feel fulfilled in a way that will ultimately never be enough. It's about love and the escape it can bring.

This book is a difficult read at times. It is gruesome and devastating; both hard to watch and hard to look away. I've never read anything quite like it.

- Gore/Body Horror
- Childhood SA
- Disordered Eating

Profile Image for Taylor Walworth.
110 reviews11 followers
July 21, 2022
I can't mince words: this was painful.

It's been a hot second since I read a book that I just could not vibe with on any level, but alas, here we are. JUNIPER & THORN was a disappointment. And while I'd like to think that some of my dislike might have been tempered by a favourable reading of Ava Reid's debut novel THE WOLF AND THE WOODSMAN (full disclaimer: never read it), or even by some knowledge of the folktale this is purportedly retelling ("The Juniper Tree"), I mostly think that when it all comes down to it.... I'm just not sure this was a well-written book? Or at least, maybe just not a particularly well-edited one?

The main character is a young witch named Marlinchen, who is the youngest of three sisters and also, she doesn't let us forget, the ugliest, except her ugliness seems to boil down to her just having really chaotic hair? She lives with her sisters Undine and Rose, who both hate her for some reason (on macro and micro levels respectively), and their father, a xenophobic warlock who bears the classic male hallmark of believing himself more powerful than anybody else he knows, and I'm really just taking his word for it that he was once because now he's just an emotional terrorist who "has to" pimp his daughters' powers out for money and survival. Also, there are monsters in the garden.

Marlinchen is resigned to her fate, caring for a father who scarcely notices her except when it benefits him to do so, servicing the men whose money her family relies upon but in whose eyes she is merely an object, when, during a late-night jaunt to the ballet with her sisters, she crosses paths with Sevastyan, a dancer who is hiding some dark secrets of his own. Drawn together, the couple resolve to escape the invisible chains their lives are each bound by.

My first issue is that what I described above constitutes basically 75% of the book. By which I mean, not a lot happens. And the remaining quarter was a mish-mash of monsters, mayhem, and murder, except a couple of the men being murdered definitely deserved to die so we don't really care about them anyway. There was a twist that I sort of saw coming, because duh, but also didn't, because the threads of this story were so lazily tied together during the denouement that a light breeze could have blown them apart. And here's where I can't decide if the problem was the writing or the editing, or both.... because I do think Ava Reid is a good writer. There were moments throughout this book of genuine horror, startling morbidity, drop-dead "what the fuck?"-ness. They were just, somehow, the wrong moments, bookended by so much other wrongness that I finished reading this not really knowing what was important, what I was supposed to care about, what the point of it all was.

My second issue: I am a reader for whom books tend to live or die by the strength of their characters, so it was an enormous problem for me that I couldn't quite get around to caring about Marlinchen, and still don't feel like I know her despite having read over 300 pages of her story. Despite her being the main character, aspects of her narration had the effect of holding her at a remove from the readers; I suspect this was purposeful, a move intended to exaggerate her victimhood (casting her inability or unwillingness to acknowledge her dire situation and call it abuse as a kind of twisted survival mechanism) and possibly even to give the final "twist" a bit more of a punch, but unfortunately it left me totally unable to access her character on a deeper level. I also had a problem with how her character and importance were constantly, irrevocably attached to and defined by the men in her life: her father, Sevastyan, Dr Bakay. (And how the ending did nothing, in my eyes, to remedy that, which completely negated any growth she might have achieved over the course of the story.)

As for the other characters, the significance of Zmiy's xenophobia was dulled by my total lack of understanding of the societal structure of Oblya (were these ethnic groups and economic structures introduced in Reid's first novel, and that's why she devoted almost no time to breaking them down here?); Undine and Rose had no personalities beyond being more beautiful than Marlinchen, and therefore they were almost completely irrelevant to the narrative; and Sevastyan was just, I dunno, a cornfield ("I think it would make me very happy to see your face in the crowd", kill me now please). Put simply, you couldn't pay me to care about any of these people.

Also, there are monsters in the garden, which, considering how this book ended, should have been more significant but just... wasn't. Alas.
Profile Image for Leo.
4,385 reviews409 followers
December 13, 2022
I was expecting an intense read but I was definitely not prepared for this. I listened to this as an audiobook. The story was horrendous, dark, twisted (check tw) but at the same time it felt beautiful in a twisted way, but easy to get hooked on while at times I wished I didn't.

I would highly recommend to check trigger warnings for this
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books467 followers
April 11, 2023
“No one had ever told me that I was allowed to scream.”

(CW for bulimia and sexual abuse mentioned in this review; there are a lot more potential triggers in the book. The author's review on Goodreads covers them comprehensively.)

So What’s It About?

A gruesome curse. A city in upheaval. A monster with unquenchable appetites.
Marlinchen and her two sisters live with their wizard father in a city shifting from magic to industry. As Oblya’s last true witches, she and her sisters are little more than a tourist trap as they treat their clients with archaic remedies and beguile them with nostalgic charm. Marlinchen spends her days divining secrets in exchange for rubles and trying to placate her tyrannical, xenophobic father, who keeps his daughters sequestered from the outside world. But at night, Marlinchen and her sisters sneak out to enjoy the city’s amenities and revel in its thrills, particularly the recently established ballet theater, where Marlinchen meets a dancer who quickly captures her heart.
As Marlinchen’s late-night trysts grow more fervent and frequent, so does the threat of her father’s rage and magic. And while Oblya flourishes with culture and bustles with enterprise, a monster lurks in its midst, borne of intolerance and resentment and suffused with old-world power. Caught between history and progress and blood and desire, Marlinchen must draw upon her own magic to keep her city safe and find her place within it.

What I Thought
I missed Reid’s debut The Wolf and the Woodsman a bit ago, but Juniper & Thorn sounded like such a good fit for me that I was delighted to get an ARC. Thanks to NetGalley for that!!! The first thing that I can say about this book is that I wanted to keep reading it very badly and ended up finishing it in a day. There was definitely something about it that drew me in all the way until the end - it has grit and atmosphere and personality in spades. I think a lot of this has to do with the writing style, which I generally found to be beautiful, immersive and effective in creating a sense of a dreadful fairy tale with lots of interesting/charming little details, especially about the stories that Marlinchen loves. I do think it could have been cleaned up in places, however - I definitely noticed certain tics and repetitions and similes of dubious quality.

As a fairy tale retelling, I think this book generally does a good job of taking the roots of The Juniper Tree and transforming it into something interesting and new that still stays true to the bloody heart of the original (extremely grim and grisly) tale. All of the magical elements worked pretty well for me. But I think it ended up being a weaker read for me in a couple of ways. This is especially true when it comes to the way that it remains true to fairy tale tropes with regard to Marlinchen’s love interest and sisters. Specifically, the love story progresses very rapidly and veers a bit too close to insta-love for my tastes and the sisters are frustratingly one-dimensional. Sevas, the ballet dancer who is Marlinchen’s love interest, only interacts with her a few times - they meet briefly in an alley, talk again briefly in her sister’s storeroom, have a date where they go to a tavern and the beach, and then they briefly see each other again while Marlinchen is trying to heal a customer - but they end up being more or less ride or die with passionate declarations of love for the rest of the book after these interactions. It didn’t quite work for me.

One of the biggest things that brings them together is both being survivors of abuse, and I think that’s always a really beautiful idea that I often enjoy seeing executed (The Mirror Season, Heart’s Blood and Empire of Sand are all examples of this that I’ve liked). In this book. there are a couple really powerful moments of them protecting and supporting each other, but my overall feeling (as with the romance in general) is just that I wish there could have been more of this because I think it could have gone a lot deeper.

As for Marlinchen’s sisters, their role in the story is essentially that of the nasty fairy tale sisters: to insult and patronize and bully her, to show how much worse Marlinchen is treated by their father, to keep her excluded from their secret rebellions against him because they think she is stupid. There are a few other fantasy books I’ve read recently that explore siblings surviving in and after abusive situations, specifically The Once and Future Witches, Spinning Silver, and The Onion Girl. I think these three books did a good job of showing how a family member’s abuse can destroy the relationships between siblings and turn them against each other as they hurt each other to protect themselves. Juniper & Thorn does this too.

But in the other books I mentioned, there was also room for growth and reconciliation, reckonings and the potential repair of terrible relationships between the siblings once their abuse ended - they acknowledged the things they had done to hurt each other and betray each other while they tried imperfectly to survive in situations that no children are equipped to survive in. They grappled with what it meant to have turned against each other, blamed each other and tried/or not tried to protect each other from the abuse. To simply say “Well, Marlinchen’s sisters are just mean and there’s no room to examine this possible aspect of their mutual experiences of abuse” feels very disappointing to me.

A few other thoughts about what didn’t work for me - the father’s competition to get the sisters married and the ensuing portion of the book where there are just a bunch of random boys hanging around the house as murderbait felt somewhat clumsy to me. In addition, I know Reid herself stated that the book was intended to continue along in exploring The Wolf and the Woodsman’s theme of nation-building/empire/identity in an emerging industrial context this time, but I would personally say that this was mentioned with only the lightest of touches.

I’m updating this review a bit now that I’ve had some time for the book to settle - and to see some other reactions to it. A lot of negative reviews seem to feel that the book jam-packs in way too much graphic, upsetting content for a book of its size. One particular review (the top one on Goodreads) became subject of quite a lot of Discourse because it claimed that the book was oversexualized - that Marlinchen and Sevas have way too much sex, that sex is talked about too much and in a gross way. The first part of this is just strange to me because there is only one fairly mild sex scene. The second part is more subjective, of course, but I personally liked that the book was willing to be frank about really uncomfortable things - like, YEAH, it does suck to wake up from a sex dream of someone who hurt you!! And I get that that's a super icky thing to read or think about but I also think depicting it can be really powerful for people who do experience it - or for someone who doesn't experience it to think about what it might be like to deal with that. It's something I wrote about in the Elf Books That Like 10 People Have Read To Conclusion and I personally appreciate that Reid is willing to go places like that. I also liked that Marlinchen had sexual agency beyond the way that she was abused. As for the matter of how Reid handled the dark content/if it was “too much,” I get that everyone is going to feel differently about this - as I’ve made clear, my feeling was mainly that I wanted more depth and exploration of what was present.

I’ve already talked about the bits that didn’t work for me, but my favorite part of the book's exploration of abuse was how messy and raw Marlinchen felt as a character. We see her fantasies of grotesque self-harm, her hatred of her body, the way she binges and purges to self-regulate, the self-effacement and doubt and crushing sense of powerlessness that she slowly fights off as she starts to take action for herself. This depiction definitely stayed with me and I still think about it sometimes even as I’m revising this review a year-ish later.
Profile Image for Khadidja .
614 reviews439 followers
January 2, 2023
This book felt like reading a studio ghibli movie if that makes sense. The story was strange, weird and described ugly things in such a captivating way that i wanted to SEE them not experience them because i am coward and i get scared.

The writing was very beautiful i can't wait to read Ava Ried's other book.
Profile Image for kaitlyn.
153 reviews148 followers
March 17, 2022
thank you netgalley, avon and harper voyager, and ava reid for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! i really enjoyed this book and i can tell that it’s one that will stay on my mind for a long time. it’s dark and gruesome, but also hopeful.

juniper and thorn is a loose retelling of “the juniper tree” and follows marlinchen and her two sisters, along with their father. i really enjoyed the writing style of this one and thought that it fit the story really well. reid’s lyrical prose helps the book establish its place as a gothic fantasy novel and kept me intrigued the entire time i was reading.

i loved seeing the growth that all of the characters undergo throughout the novel. marlinchen starts to believe more in herself and learns some of the secrets that have been kept from her. there are some lighter moments between her and those she loves, but overall this is a very gruesome novel, and i recommend checking trigger warnings before reading. i was shocked at how descriptive some of the scenes were, because i wasn’t aware that this was an adult book before reading, but i was really impressed with it.

ava reid did a wonderful job with the setting and character growth in this book and i’m eager to read more from them. i highly recommend this book for people wanting a darker fantasy novel.
Profile Image for Jessica ❥Chatterbooks Book Blog❥.
797 reviews2,829 followers
January 17, 2023
I want to come back and review this later, but for now, I'll leave something short and sweet.

Juniper & Thorn is a gothic horror fairytale retelling. There's a romance involved too which made it even better. The author's writing style took me a second to get used to, but it's absolutely perfect for the story.

I stayed up all night to finish it. I couldn't put it down. I'm paying for it now, but it was totally worth it!

Overall, Juniper & Thorn is dark, seriously fucking weird, and twisted, so naturally, I loved it! 😂
Profile Image for Jena.
594 reviews105 followers
April 9, 2022
4.5 stars
This is the first book I’ve read by Ava Reid, and I was absolutely blown away by her writing style. It’s very atmospheric and clearly inspired by a few different gothic works. This story is equally as interesting as it is beautifully written. Ava Reid weaves a touching story about parental abuse through a fascinating magic filled mystery. Overall, I was so engrossed and impressed, I can’t recommend this author enough!
Thank you to Edelweiss for the ARC in exchange for an honest review!
Profile Image for Brittany Smith.
248 reviews267 followers
May 11, 2022
“What was a story except a berry you ate over and over again, until your lips and tongue were red and every word you spoke was poison?”

Thank you to the publishers and Edelweiss for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Ava Reid’s debut, The Wolf and the Woodsman, was nothing short of a masterpiece of adult fantasy and set such a high standard for what debuts could accomplish. I was incredibly excited to be able to continue to support them and read more of their work… and a fantasy-horror retelling of Grimm’s darkest fairytale? Say no more!

Juniper & Thorn follows Marlinchen, the youngest of three daughters of the last wizard in Oblya, a city in the midst of throwing off the old ways and embracing modernization. As witches, Marlinchen and her sisters are little more than a source of income for their tyrannical father, who keeps them locked away from the outside world and under a tight leash.

But as young women, they chafe under his rules and sneak out of the house at night. On Marlinchen’s first night out, she is swept away by the ballet performance she sees, and the principal dancer who plays Prince Ivan. Every midnight tryst leaves hope for true love and freedom, but she also risks her father’s magic and rage if she’s ever found out.

Between money problems, their father’s turbulent moods and explosive fury, and a monster who stalks the streets of Oblya murdering innocents, everything will fall to Marlinchen as she figures out the true depths of what her father has done to them, exactly what the cost of freedom could be, and if she can afford to pay it.

Similar to TW+TW, Reid is able to craft such vivid, palpable atmosphere that is perfectly suited to the story they are trying to tell. Behind sunny and bright gardens lurk monsters and a sinister house that hides many things. Times of day alternate, turning sunny gardens to shadow-filled silence. Night migrations that lead to brightly lit ballet theaters. Like taking a bite of fruit with a rotten core, the atmosphere is in turns gorgeous and enticing, then shocking and disgusting, and back again. There’s a claustrophobic feel to the horror within their house, the weight of secrets and suffering.

The vividly different imagery mirrored their abusive father’s moods. Sometimes he would be kind and grateful, and then he could explode and threaten them with his magic. They lived in constant fear of him. He was cursed by a witch to never feel satisfied with anything. This novel was a realistic (but horrible) example of how it can feel to live under the abuse from a parent. The fear. The unknown. Walking on eggshells. Desperately trying ANYTHING to please them and to be loved, only to fail, to slip up, again and again. Nothing will ever be good enough, and the difficulty of truly coming to terms with that fact.

Fairytales are woven in to this narrative as Marlinchen recounts them to herself as she compares them to her life or uses them to make sense of things that have happened to her, or tells them to Sevas, the love interest. She was a child raised on magic and a fairytale codex and since this was a fairytale retelling, it seemed fitting. I always love the incorporation of fairytales and mythology within fantasy books.

And Sevas, my god, I would die for him. I truly don’t know how Ava is able to write such compelling but noticeably different love interests. I loved Gaspar in TW+TW, but they are not very similar and relationship dynamics were completely different as well. Sevas’ kindness and compassion and understanding to Marlinchen from the very beginning above all. There is something so visceral and unendingly awe-inspiring than a good, old fashioned “I see you. I see all of your flaws. I accept them. I love you.” scene. They make me want to rattle the bars of my sanity cage and scream into my pillow.

And I have to say I loved the complex relationship Marlinchen had with her sisters. So many times we read books about siblings being the best of friends, even if that isn’t always what reflects real life. Marlinchen’s relationship with her sisters was messy, was awful, set them apart, showed what they all had to do to themselves and to each other to survive living under their father, regardless if that meant throwing someone else to their father’s rage. I found it fascinating, and horrible, and understandable.

Since humanity began recording their stories, we’ve used fairytales to explore the darkness inside us and around us and explain that monsters can come from within as easily as they can stalk us through the woods. Juniper & Thorn is faithful to that purpose and shows such understanding and reverence to that function fairytales performed, and as custom, also managing to have a happy ending for our dear plain-faced fairytale heroine Marlinchen.

I look forward to anything else Ava Reid may write in the future, especially A Study in Drowning (fall 2023) and will certainly add this book to my collection come June!

I encourage you to read the author’s full statement regarding this book’s content warnings that you can find in the Goodreads reviews and as a reminder, this book is a fantasy horror. It’s meant to horrify, to repulse, to offend. It tackles and gives words to topics that may be hard to read for some, but everyone, from abuse survivors, to SA survivors, to ED survivors, deserve to have stories written for them and deserve to see themselves within fiction. And perhaps even more importantly: remember that survivors have different experiences. Do not disregard their voices because you, personally, might not find it palatable.

Content warnings: gore / body horror, child sexual abuse, physical and psychological family abuse, bulimia and graphic depictions of vomiting, animal death, cannibalism, self-harm and suicidal ideation, antisemitism and xenophobia.
Profile Image for olivia.
367 reviews887 followers
July 8, 2022
Yep, I will be reading everything Ava Reid writes.
Even though I read this in the middle of summer, I can tell this would be the perfect fall read. Dark standalone fantasy with some horror elements and a little romance subplot. The writing is as decadent as dark chocolate. I absolutely loved this !
Profile Image for Tia.
7 reviews
October 9, 2022
Take a shot every time:

1. She blushes
2. She mentions that she’s ugly
3. The word “breasts” is used

Invite me to your funeral if there’s gonna be good snacks

My 13th reason quote:
“Their breasts seemed polite somehow, unobtrusive; certainly they would never be rude enough to split the seam on a bodice.”

Profile Image for bri (beforeviolets).
262 reviews771 followers
January 17, 2023
Thank you endlessly to Harper Voyager for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Just a note on the CW/TWs as well as the book as a whole: Juniper & Thorn vividly portrays intense topics such as abuse, sexualization, intrusive thoughts, eating disorders, and much more. This book is about living with trauma. It is about memory. It is about dehumanization. And it challenges not only the main character, but the audience to digest these topics while viewing the characters and the story as whole and complex and utterly human. Look after yourself while reading this book and please read, review, and recommend with care and nuance. Here is the author's wonderful commentary on this.

Ava Reid's writing only gets richer and more enjoyable with time, and my thoughts are only beginning to marinate and shift as I write this review. I'm sure this is a book that will change meaning many time sover the course of my life.

The curse of the sophomore novel comes nowhere near Ava Reid, as she gracefully and carefully molds her writing into a new and brilliant narrative voice. Where The Wolf and The Woodsman echoed classic epic high fantasy writing, Juniper & Thorn reflects the canon of gothic literature, most closely recalling the work of Shirley Jackson.

Juniper & Thorn - set in a fantastical version of Odessa, Ukraine - explores the lengths people will go to in search for a meaning or a larger message in our own tragedies.

And we experience this world through the lens of a young witch who uses stories as a vehicle to move about her life and who learns to ask: who is the one telling these stories?

When we're children, we are given a map of this world that teaches us right from wrong. We are taught, often through story and metaphor, who are the heroes and who are the monsters. And it affects our perspective every single day for the rest of our lives. It affects who we trust. It affects our prejudices and our privileges. It affects who we allow to dictate our own experiences. But most importantly, it affects the narratives we tell to ourselves and to others. And for Marlinchen, these stories have affected her more than most.

Folkloric themes and the history of storytelling are neatly folded and baked into every ounce of this text. From the theme of hunger and insatiability used as a metaphor for control, to the plentiful (near overflowing) use of the rule of threes, Ava Reid does not allow us to forget the limited and particular perspective of our story-obsessed main character.

The gothic genre has always been a tool in which to navigate the difficult to describe, utilizing themes such as cannibalism, isolation, incest, violence, and abuse in portraying otherness. And Reid comfortably adds Marlinchen's voice to the canon, a character who represents the traumatized craving for familiarity over safety, but who learns to break down her beliefs and rewrite the stories she'd been given to define the world.

A large part of this narrative journey occurs through Marlinchen's interpersonal relationships. Her sisters - reminiscent of Cinderella's stepsisters - and her father build cages for her, then scold and shame her for her own forced obedience. As the youngest of the family, she is treated as precious and innocent, yet chastened for her ignorance. She is kept so sheltered and passive, it's easy for the reader to forget her age of 23. But when her little world expands one night at the ballet, she finally finds a way to bite off more than she's been fed.

Marlinchen begins to notice the cracks in the stories she's been told upon meeting Sevas, the ballet's ingenue. Through Marlinchen's limited scope of archetypes, she struggles to find a way to categorize her love interest. He's Jewish, so therefore she should view him as monstrous and greedy - the way she's been taught to view Jews. But he's strong and elegant, so she should view him as a hero. And so she has to learn to break down these archetypes between them and view him as what he is: a boy with a complicated and very human life. A life, in fact, that mirrors her own in several ways.

In contrast to Ava's first novel, this book takes place mostly in one location, is severely slow-paced, and is almost entirely character-driven. It’s a brilliant display of Ava Reid’s versatility, able to shift the writing style and approach to serve the story being told. It’s truly the sign of a masterful storyteller and has solidified Ava’s place as my favorite author.

But personally, I think my favorite thing about this book, and about Ava Reid’s writing, is their protagonists. Ava writes real people. Marlinchen is morally grey in the way in the way that navigating the world is inherently a gray experience, especially when you’re raised within such a limited scope of understanding, especially when you’re taught corrupt and bigoted perspectives, and especially when you’re living with trauma. Ava Reid’s protagonists move about the world doing the best they can to protect themselves and their happiness. Marlinchen is no exception to this. She is the perfect portrayal of a survivor of CSA and abuse by not being perfect. By showing that there is no right way to handle trauma. By showing that every single day is different, but every single day she is alive and doing her best to live for herself. And isn’t that what we’re all doing?

I truly do not have the words to unpack the many well-crafted layers of this book, but I do have the words to tell you that I adored it. And that I hope you will too.

CW/TW: eating disorder (graphic), emesis, physical/emotional/sexual abuse/child abuse (graphic), SA*, sexual harassment, pedophilia, misogyny, antisemitism, xenophobia, scientific racism/eugenics, animal death (graphic), death, childbirth (mention), gore, blood, body horror, violence, cannibalism, incest, self-harm ideation, suicidal ideation, character death, murder, drug use (nonconsensual), alcoholism
*the worst of it is skippable: p. 167-175 (start of chapter to paragraph break)
Profile Image for Grace.
129 reviews113 followers
August 19, 2022
I had high expectations for this book to the point where I tried to curb them before I started reading because I knew odds were good that when I think a book is going to be THIS good, I’m probably going to be disappointed.

If I had to describe this book as simply as possible, I would say that it’s 50% fairytale and 50% horror, mixed in with a classic feminist literature flair.

One of the reasons why I was really looking forward to this book is because it’s a fairytale fantasy, similar to THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE or UPROOTED. From the first page, Ava Reid delivered. The prose was stunning and repeatedly returned to fairytales throughout the book. It wasn’t just a childhood story, based on mythology, or using a metaphor from a folktale. It used fairytales in every way imaginable. Every fiber of this book was built from their threads. I loved that.

I began to get uneasy because the book overall was very sensual (hence my description of it as having a bit of a classic feminist literature flair). Sometimes I get frustrated with books that are overly sexual for no reason and with this one it seemed liked it was going beyond that into being weirdly sexual. There was one specific thing I found disconcerting, but then I realized a.) this is a horror book and I’m MEANT to find this content disconcerting and b.) there was a specific, in-book reason for the hyper-focus on this one thing that I just didn’t realize yet because it hadn’t fully been revealed yet.

Another reason why I was super excited for this book was because I had seen Ava Reid talking about her protagonist on her Instagram stories. Marlinchen is very feminine. She wears pink silk dresses, has long hair, does the cooking and cleaning for her family, is her father’s youngest and most obedient daughter, and her most prized possession is the charm bracelet she inherited from her mother. I love the idea that women should be allowed to be soft and kind and feminine and not be killed for it or sneered at for conforming to the patriarchy. I’ve grown up in the age of YA fantasy and dystopias where every “strong female character” whines about having to wear dresses, has a sharp tongue, and wields a weapon better than any man. I’m sick of it. If anything, it’s more pro-masculinity than feminist. I know a lot of people in the book community have pointed this out, but even in 2022 a ton of the YA fantasy books I pick up have similar protagonists, even if the authors have made them less “not like other girls” in an outward way that puts down other women. I’m not seeing very many stories at all with women who are embracing their femininity and who are also strong women. Marlinchen is exactly what I’ve been looking for.

This book is also squarely a horror book and I would suggest checking trigger warnings if that’s something you like to do. There were a couple scenes in particular that I found particularly challenging. In many ways, the entire book was uncomfortable. I don’t think there was a single scene in this book that made me genuinely happy or hopeful. I mostly found it disturbing, rather than frightening or disgusting. Everything had at least an undercurrent of unsettling energy. Most of the negative reviews I’ve seen have centered around this content and the fact that people don’t seem to realize this is a horror novel before they start it. There were lots of things that seemed excessive to me at first—especially some of the things that are highly sexualized—but make total sense within the context of Marlinchen’s trauma. I don’t want to get spoilery, but Marlinchin has bulimia and severe body dysmorphia as a result of the trauma she faced and continues to face.

I also want to address the relationship between Marlinchen and the love interest. I saw a couple criticisms that it was a bit insta-lovey and too full of lust without enough development. On one hand, I do agree that they get together very quickly, but this makes complete sense given that Marlinchen is a young woman who hasn’t been allowed to walk past the gates of her house in the twenty-three years of life because of her abusive father. Of course, she’s going to fall in love with the first beautiful man she meets. She’s desperate for acceptance and love, and here is someone who is offering it to her. It occurs to me that Reid could have taken a much darker turn here—in addition to all the other horrible things that happen in this book, Marlinchen’s lover could easily betray her. As I said before, there aren’t any scenes in this book that are truly happy. I think having a slightly idealized version of events in finding Sevas and falling in love is necessary both because it gives the book the only hope it has to offer and because it would be unbelievably grim without that.

I’m not sure how much I actually enjoyed reading this, but after I got a good ways into it I absolutely couldn’t stop thinking about it. I started writing this review when I was about 85% done because I just had so many thoughts I needed to get out (sorry, I know this is long—it’s probably the longest review I’ve ever written). I did drool over Reid’s beautiful prose while I was reading it. Now that I’ve finished, I still can’t stop thinking about Marlinchen. I don’t know when I ever will.

One final note: I’ve never read The Juniper Tree so any love or distaste in that aspect of it is completely lost on me. I do have a copy of the Grimm’s book and I intend to go look it up soon to read it. I’m incredibly intrigued in the original story that inspired this one.
Profile Image for rachelle (m00dreads).
190 reviews92 followers
July 20, 2023
View this review on my booksta!

3.25 rounded down.

Juniper & Thorn is a chillingly visceral portrait of the underpinnings and repercussions of abuse, painted over a haunting imagining of Slavic lore. Reid’s evocative writing heightens the morbid effect of her main weapon of delivery – body horror. Her words are darkly atmospheric; they snake around you with all the slithering seduction of vines and drag you headfirst into her gritty and sepulchral world.

For those who like their fantasies heaped with indulgent servings of sordid, this is the perfect October read (if you’re planning on picking this up, I cannot implore you enough to look up the CWs and heed them). However, if you’re looking for an action-filled and plot-driven tale, it’s best to turn elsewhere. I love myself a depraved, no-holds-barred fantasy, but I still require orientation. I need the story to be grounded with a sense of direction regardless of how sinuous the trail may be. And yet, the cohesion between the underlying themes and the plot is weak. The grittiness began to feel like over-liberal seasoning compensating for an undercooked center. There was an effort to incorporate explorations on xenophobia and industrialization to the overarching storyline, but they proved to be as purposeless an element as the city map plastered on one page.

The romance? Also very off-putting. The love interest had the potential to be an intriguing character in his own right, but it was like Reid had dunked both him and the MC in a tub of trauma, and upon their resurfacing, poked them with a stick to get them going at it. Zero chemistry, and a farce of a build-up (if having them meet each other a grand total of four times even constitutes one lol). Of course the cloistered and traumatized MC was going to fall in love with the first person who drops her a crumb of sincere kindness 🙄. There were better devices for character progression that could have been used.

In retrospect, my expectations for this were ramped up high — Novik and Valente’s Eastern European lore-inspired books are some of my most beloved, and my standards were through the roof. Still, I commend Reid for her raw portrayal of womanhood, toxic relationships, and the hope that cycles of abuse can be broken. Marlinchen earned my sympathy and tested my patience; and it is the poignance of her journey that allowed me to overlook most of my gripes.


a gothic retelling for fans of catherynne valente... a tale about sisterhood... SOLD.
Profile Image for Allison Saft.
Author 5 books1,233 followers
September 27, 2021
I absolutely ADORE THIS BOOK, which is haunting and whimsical and brimming with monsters both human and fantastical. More importantly, it has my sweet children, Marlinchen and Sevas, both of whom I would lay down my life for without question. This book is a reimagining of The Juniper Tree, and the prose is as effortlessly beautiful and timeless as any fairytale. But what I admire most about this book is how cleverly Ava uses fairytale conventions to underscore the horrors her protagonists experience: stories root themselves deeply and begin to sprout thorns the more and more they're repeated. J&T is delightfully gruesome--but always, always hopeful. I seriously can't wait for y'all to read this one next year!
Profile Image for Emilie.
454 reviews13 followers
September 4, 2022
I received an ARC of this book.
I enjoyed The Wolf and the Woodsman, and so was very interested to read this book. But I did not enjoy it at all. I am not sure if there are enough trigger warnings for this book. It was a lot. This book dealt with child abuse, psychological abuse, emotional abuse, eating disorders, sexual abuse, pedophilia, animal abuse and cruelty, sex trafficking, cannibalism, torture, xenophobia, and graphic depictions of gory injuries and death. And I'm probably leaving some out... It was too much. If the author was trying to make a statement about the horrible nature of these things, picking one or two to include in her story would have had a much deeper and meaningful impact on the reader than throwing everything in. It was almost like, "What now? Well of course they all ate the murder victim, killed their pet, murdered their family member.... Nothing else can surprise me in this book." Things that perhaps were supposed to be jarring and shocking became almost cartoonish by the end of the book. Another issue I had with the book was the overly sexualized nature of just about everything. Right off the bat I thought to myself, "Oh. Okay...we are going there...alright." And then things began to feel unnecessarily graphic and vulgar. The relationship between Marlinchen and Sevas felt rushed at best, terribly toxic at worst. These are two horrifically traumatized individuals who have just fallen into insta-love with the first person who has shown them glimmers of affection. By the end I couldn't wait to finish the book--not so I could find out what would happen, but because I just wanted it to be over with.
This book was dark, disturbing, graphic, gross, unsettling, and disjointedly weird. And none of that in a good way. Don't come into this expecting another book like The Wolf and the Woodsman, even though it is set in the same world. This is a horror book filled with the terrifyingly awful things that humans can do to each other, described in a strangely off-hand and matter-of-fact YET disgustingly graphic manner.
I would not recommend this book. And I am not sure I would read another book by this author, despite my opinions about her earlier work.
Profile Image for Emma Cathryne.
519 reviews84 followers
June 1, 2023
I am in the odd position of greatly appreciating this book from a thematic and literary standpoint but also knowing it does not fit my personal tastes. I really struggle with this level of heavy content and violence and encourage everyone to pay close attention to the trigger warnings below. Still, I can appreciate that Reid has crafted a deeply twisted, deeply frightening, and deeply compelling dark fairy tale that is packed to the brim with meaning. The story tackles issues from scientific racism, to disordered eating, to the erasure of victims in pseudo-feminist narratives. Marlinchen is total deconstruction of the typical fairy-tale protagonist, and I was blown away by the nuanced portrayal of her actions and reactions as a learned consequence of trauma, and became highly invested in her struggle for freedom on her own terms.

The setting of the novel is all belching coal smoke and slimy fish guts and churning machines: pitting the dark underbelly of industrialization against grasping roots of history and tradition. This book does not blunt its edges: it is often unbearably violent and relentlessly dark, but all in the service of spinning a tale of horror so intractable that I'm going to be a while peeling the grit and gristle of it away from my bones.

PLEASE, PLEASE pay attention to the following trigger warnings, all of which I wish I had been aware of going into the story. TW for: cannibalism, body horror, disorder eating, animal abuse and animal death, sexual assault and sexual violence, pedophillia, self-harm, and anti-seminitism.
Profile Image for Laurie  (barksbooks).
1,752 reviews697 followers
January 4, 2023
Sooo, after glancing at a few reviews it appears the author may have a whole bunch of rabid fans who jump on people who say less-than-positive things. Fellow humans, please stop this behavior. It makes you look very bad. People assume the writer is behind it. That makes them look very bad whether true or not. Reviews are here to help READERS. We are not so dumb that we can’t make up our own damn minds about whether or not we are going to read a book. Seriously, brush it off and go write your own review. With that said, please use great caution when dipping into this book because there are several triggers here that folks might find distressing or abhorrent. None of it bothered me but I’m used to reading terrible and bleak and graphic things and when I pick up a book where I’m not expecting those things and I find those things? Well, that usually grabs my attention - so take that into consideration. I’ll put the content warnings under a spoiler tag at the bottom. If you have any concerns, please read them.

This book is inspired by the original unedited brothers Grimm fairytale The Juniper-Tree which I read before digging into this one. Let me tell ya, that old “fairytale” horrified me, and this story gives it a nice nod and also tells its own story. I’d recommend giving the Grimm tale a read so the horror will be fresh in your brain! I found an audio version on YouTube.

Marlinchen is the third daughter of the last wizard in a world that is rapidly moving away from herbal remedies and magic. Her horrid father will do anything to keep his daughters under his thumb. He constantly threatens them with curses if they dare disobey. But they find a way to sneak out and on her first foray to the ballet, Marlinchen is entranced by the lead male dancer, Sevas. After the show, they have a brief encounter, and an attraction sparks that sets a dangerous series of events into motion. Her father’s endless hunger and rage begin to boil over and Marlinchin is forced to figure out a way to survive the threat her father poses to everything she loves as she discovers terrible truth after terrible truth.

“We would be safest in ashes and in urns.”

This book does not shy away from trauma, it doesn’t hide it or pretty it up, or shove it under the rug. It infects these characters and is the root of who they become and why they act the way that they do. I thought it was very well done. These people are traumatized and broken. But beware there is also the dreaded insta-love! This old trope usually drives me up a wall but here it felt ok considering, well, every damn thing these two had been through and were going through. And sometimes love at first sight IS a thing and sometimes it even works out. Or maybe I’m just having a good day, lol. Anyway, I read a lot of romance (and a lot of horror), and this exploration of sexuality, attraction, and love made sense to me. Would I have liked to have seen a bit more from Sevas’s POV? Well, of course, I love getting into the heads of damaged people but this book wasn’t a romance and I was okay with what we got.

I fell into this book and didn’t want to leave. I mean, it’s not a perfect book, I can clearly see that but it was a perfect book for me. The plot meanders sometimes but so does my brain usually and it didn’t here. I didn’t have the urge to pick up my phone, watch an old episode of the X-files or avoid the book and dream about all the others I want to read instead. It captured me, faults and all, complicated characters and all, and I recommend it to anyone looking to become immersed in a very dangerous, sometimes gross world of magic and monsters where one young woman struggles to overcome a lifetime of abuse and manipulation. It’s a beautiful nightmare. You should definitely read it if this sounds like your thing.

4 ½ Stars bumping up to a 5 because I adored it despite my little complaint above.

Profile Image for Carole (Carole's Random Life).
1,796 reviews485 followers
June 21, 2022
This review can also be found at https://carolesrandomlife.com/

I loved this book! Ava Reid’s debut, The Wolf and the Woodsman, was one of my favorite books in 2021 so to say that I was excited to read this book is an understatement. I couldn’t wait to dive into this story and once I did I read almost the entire book in a single day simply because I didn’t want to put it down. This is a very dark tale and I would encourage readers to check out the content warnings before picking this one up.

This story is told from the point of view of a young witch, Marlinchen, who lives with her father, a wizard living under a curse. Marlinchen and her two older sisters must deal with his cruel ways but they have found a way to escape to the city to see the ballet while he sleeps. This is where she meets Sevas, the principal dancer in the show. Even though Marlinchen isn’t as beautiful as her two older sisters, she wins the eye of the young dancer. The world that Marlinchen and Sevas live in is often cruel and decisions about their lives are frequently made by others but they hope to change that.

I grew to like Marlinchen pretty quickly and hated the way she was treated. I really wanted to see some positive changes come into her life. She worked so hard to keep her father happy and was never appreciated. The story itself was exciting. There were some pretty big surprises that came into play in the story. Because of Marlinchen’s father’s magic, anything could happen in this tale which kept things really interesting. I thought that the writing was excellent and loved the way that the vivid descriptions helped to bring the story to life.

I would recommend this book to others. This was an incredibly imaginative and well-written tale that kept me glued to the pages. I have not read The Juniper Tree so I can’t say how this book compares but it was an entertaining read on its own. I look forward to reading more of this author’s work in the future.

I received an advanced review copy of this book from Harper Voyager.

Initial Thoughts
I read almost all of this book in a single day. I just didn't want to put it down! I loved Ava Reid's debut, The Wolf and the Woodsman, and was eager to dive into this book. This is a very dark story told from the point of view of a young witch, Marlinchen, who lives with her father, a wizard living under a curse. I grew to like Marlinchen pretty quickly and hated the way she was treated. There were a few really big surprises that came into play before the story drew to a close. This was an incredibly imaginative and well-written tale.
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