Title: Juniper & Thorn
Author: Ava Reid
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Genre: Gothic Horror/Fantasy
Content/Trigger Warnings: Gore, body horror, child sexual abuse, cannibalism, antisemitism, xenophobia, physical and psychological abuse, self-harm, suicidal ideation, bulimia, emesis, animal death
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 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.
Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with a free e-ARC in exchange for an honest review! All opinions contained within are my own.
I’m sitting here, staring at my computer screen, because I’m finding it hard to put into words what I felt about this book. A gothic horror tale that leans hard into the horrific, I found myself both intrigued and grossed out through most of this book! But there was also a good chunk where I was bored out of my mind. So let me try to transfer those very conflicting feelings into a coherent review!
Juniper & Thorn follows three witches and their wizard father who live in a world that is swiftly leaving magic behind. Marlinchen is the youngest of the sisters, a plain-faced witch who doesn’t know much of the world outside her family’s garden. One night, when she sneaks out with her sisters to watch the local ballet perform, she meets a dancer and her world turns completely upside down. Secrets upon secrets, lies upon lies, and it all may soon come crashing down on Marlinchen and her family.
First and foremost, I have to say that Ava Reid can freakin’ write. The writing in this is absolutely superb! I loved the flow of it, the intensely gothic feel, and how it was so evocative that it was like watching a movie as I turned the pages. She did a fantastic job of establishing the world and bringing in a supremely chilling atmosphere that was probably my favorite aspect of this book. If you’re looking for great, gothic vibes, this book has that in spades.
The author also did an incredible job writing an entire cast of compelling characters. Marlinchen is our main character, and she certainly comes to life on the pages. The secondary characters, however, don’t fall flat simply because we aren’t getting the story from their POV. They are as vibrant and captivating as Marlinchen, which I always appreciate in a book. There’s also a lot of trauma, both present and past, that they are all dealing with throughout this story, so maybe prepare yourself for that. I think it was all handled in a great, if sad and dark, way so that it didn’t read like it was added simply for shock value. And I absolutely loved watching Marlinchen come into her own as the story progressed.
All that being said, the plot left a little something to be desired. I enjoyed the story and where it went, but it felt like such a slog to get there at times. I have a hard time pinpointing why exactly I was getting so bored. Perhaps it is the repetitive nature of Marlinchen’s daily life, that we got to see repeatedly in the story. And it was often written in the exact same way. For example, Marlinchen cooks for her father every day. And, every day, Marlinchen remarks that she cooks varkenyky with filling she doesn’t remember making. Every. Single. Day. I might be exaggerating a bit but it felt like I read that same scene over and over again. There was a lot of repetition in this book and, though I feel it was intentional to convey the monotony of Marlinchen’s life, it lead to me getting bored.
Marlinchen also thinks/talks about breasts… A LOT. Like… I almost started keeping a tally of how many times the word “breast” or “breasts” was mentioned in the text because it felt like it was… excessive. You might want to avoid this if you’re at all sensitive to reading about vomiting, as well, because, oof, does Ava Reid go into detail about that.
Overall, the writing, the character work, and the world-building all made up for the kind of lackluster plot. I enjoyed this one and I’m definitely interested in checking out more books by this author. It wasn’t precisely my cup of tea, but it was a good read.