Book Review: Juniper and Thorn by Ava Reid

‘Juniper and Thorn’ was Ava Reid’s second novel and was published in 2022. It is a dark fantasy which leans into gothic traditions. The novel follows the story of Marlinchen, the youngest of three sisters living under her father, the last wizard of Oblya’s roof.

Marlinchen experiences horrific abuse and her xenophobic father, and beautiful sister’s hands prior to and throughout the story, with rigid rules keeping them virtuous, innocent and within his control. While Marlinchen slept soundly, her cunning older sisters would visit the city and indulge themselves in art, culture, beauty, wine and men. But, after Marlinchen’s first night out with them, their schemes to escape into society were found out and forbidden to leave again.

A dark fairytale with a mix of modern and past elements to it, Reid created an immersive setting. Oblya was an interesting city. It was at the height of social change; old ways becoming obsolete, traditions once held dear to generations past were now seen as novelties and commodities. It was a city that was growing, diversifying and becoming more vibrant and attractive to tourists, which only fuelled Marlinchen’s father’s dissatisfaction. But, despite her abuse, Marlinchen is kind, if not a bit naive.

Her life changes immeasurably when she accidentally encounters the pinnacle dancer of a travelling ballet troupe, Sevas, vomiting in an alleyway after seeing the show with her sisters, and as their chance encounters grow more frequent and less coincidental the pair fall in love. But when your father is an abusive, malignant wizard, cursed with an insatiable appetite and a knack for transformation magic, there’s a lot to lose, especially with a rising number of strange killings taking place.

I found this gothic tale riveting and thrilling. I loved being in Marlinchen’s head, despite hearing how she had internalised her abuse on repeat in her mind. She was a sympathetic protagonist and a girl you want to see happy after all she suffers through. I loved this story, its conclusion in particular was exhilarating!

Due to the gothic nature of the story, its important to be mindful of potentially triggering elements such as cannibalism, eating disorder, explicit deaths, emotional abuse and body horror.

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