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Alphabet of Thorn

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  5,051 ratings  ·  403 reviews
Deep inside a palace on the edge of the world, the orphan Nepenthe pores over books in the royal library, translating their languages and learning their secrets. Now sixteen, she knows little of the outside world — except for the documents that traders and travelers bring her to interpret.

Then, during the coronation of the new Queen of Raine, a young mage gives
Paperback, 291 pages
Published February 1st 2005 by Ace (first published February 3rd 2004)
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Average rating 4.06  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,051 ratings  ·  403 reviews

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Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Jul 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, standalone
Alphabet of Thorn is a short, standalone fantasy by Patricia A. McKillip. This was my first time reading any of her work, and I’ve seen comments in a few places that this was not necessarily the best book to start with, but I greatly enjoyed it. I guess I must have even better things to look forward to when I cycle back around to try more of her work.

The story is told from multiple POVs. One of the main POVs is focused on a teenage girl who was abandoned as a baby. She was taken in and ra
The story starts slowly and quietly -- not so slow as to encourage giving up, but still, it feels quite leisurely. And mysterious. But it picks up pace to become quite a rich, but compact, fantasy tale of loss, hope and reunion.

SRC Task 20.9; Read All The Books: The Fifth Season; SFFBC TBR 18

Patricia A. McKillip won the World Fantasy Award Life Achievement award in
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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.
Alexis Hall
Note of shallowness: I am sad I do not have this with the original cover which is super ornate and gorgeous.

I burned out on fantasy quite a few years ago, but there was a lot I enjoyed about this. The fact it wasn’t eighty thousand gazillion pages long, for example, and it’s not the first book of a trilogy, which ends on a cliff-hanger, and book two of which is due for release in 2046. Also there are women in it, which fantasy as a genre is still working on—a variety of women and the
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 mysteri
Mar 01, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Sep 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Wow. This books packs a slow-building lyrical punch of magic, horror, and emotional revelation. And it is primarily about being a woman.

What does that even mean!

First, it's a story all about magic -- why we care about magic, the forms magic takes in the world, how it changes lives, how much and how little it is understood -- without ever placing magic in a system with clean edges or anything fully under human control. McKillip writes magic in the style of Le Guin's Earths
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
Feb 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: time-travel, fantasy, 2009
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 ou
Sep 09, 2011 rated it liked it
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 21, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Feb 22, 2009 rated it liked it
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 rebelli
Maggie K
Aug 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
This story's main characters are three younger people, Tessara, Bourne and Nepanthe . One is the new Queen of Raine, thrust into a position she has in no way ready for, one is the nephew of a noble. sent to a mage school to get him out of the way, and the last is an orphan librarian/translator. Yet they somehow manage to come together to defeat the greatest threat their country has ever seen.

I think that I the hands of any lesser author, this scenario would seem nonsensical, bi
Rebecca McNutt
Jan 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Alphabet of Thorn starts off being a little confusing, but it quickly picks up the pace as an unforgettable and exciting fantasy novel.
Jun 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
it seems genre books about weird languages is a new niche of mine. see Babel-17 and Embassytown. who would have thought those four years studying linguistics would come in handy, huh?

this was a very peculiar book. fantasy novels under 250 pages have not been very usual in my reading experience so far and i'm always intrigued as to how they can accomplish a good sense of world-building in such a short lapse. however, i've also read books over 800 pages who have been utter rubish in their characterisation
Goran Lowie
Jul 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There is something very special about Patricia McKillip’s books. This is probably my favorite of hers that I’ve read so far.
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2019
I absolutely adored this books, it was everything I wanted it to be. The combination of books/translation/storytelling/magic made for a compelling read and I was surprised she fit so much plot and character into a relatively short book. The only reason I'm deducting one star is due to the treatment of disfigurement as a plot device, I feel as if could have been met with a bit more sensitivity and less shame. I will definitely be reading more McKillip!
Apr 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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.
Tokio Myers
Mar 25, 2016 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 rated it it was amazing
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.

LynAnne Smucker
Jan 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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/>This
Kyle Muntz
Mar 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
"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 hec
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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.

According to F
“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.”
More quotes…