“You belonged in the library, as much as any book.”
All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.
Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.
As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.
CW: body horror, gore (including eye gore), violence, implied child abuse, loss of a loved one, child death, implied medical abuse, implied sexual abuse
Sorcery of Thorns came into my house, beat me over the head with an entire library’s worth of books and also a fancy sword, and I just want to say it can do that again any time.
Seriously, if my scheduled wasn’t already packed, I suspect I would be diving straight back into a reread, because this is a book that’s appealed to every corner of my soul. It has the best of YA fantasy to it, libraries heralded as places of great importance (which they are, thank you very much!), a nifty sword, a fluffy and extremely disgruntled cat, banter to fuel my soul for a thousand years, and to cap it all off, a self-contained story. Yes, you heard me. It has ALL THESE THINGS AND MORE, and it’s a stand-alone.
A moment of applause for Margaret Rogerson, for pulling this off?
Looking back, Sorcery of Thorns was easily my best read all of October (and given how much I adored Beyond the Black Door, it had EXTREMELY stiff competition), and I can’t help but be unapologetically in love with every facet of it.
For starters, the characters were just so delightful. Sometimes, standalone characters can fall flat, but there was time to see how the cast relationships played out, not only in moments of extreme, fast-paced circumstance, but in the quiet moments between, where the pressure eased to only a lingering force. We get the best and worst of Elisabeth, who is totally devoted to the libraries, yet also has a talent for landing herself deep in the middle of trouble. She’s headstrong (my favorite kind of female character tbh), and while it works in her favor sometimes, other times, it causes her grief.
Then we have Nathaniel, the enigmatic sorcerer with his guard constantly up. At first, he just seems like a classic detached, tragic Sad Boy™, but as the novel moves onward, we get to see all facets of him, from the side still coping with truly devastating childhood trauma, to the other side of him that’s witty and charismatic and seeking joy and excitement in his life. He’s under more pressure than first expected, and given the stressors in his life, he (mostly) copes pretty damn well.
AND THEN we have Silas, Nathaniel’s constant companion and resident demon. Dry and precise, and only around because of the pact forged between himself and Nathaniel, I was prepared to be disappointed at Silas’s inevitable betrayal. Instead, even without learning the full scope of his backstory, I cried twice over Silas, and fell in love with his deft way of handling intense situations.
Although none of the other characters receive nearly as much page time as these three, I also felt that the supporting cast was shaped strongly. You often get a sense of what side characters want from their lives beyond the moments where they’re helping or fighting Elisabeth and her unusual crew, making them seem like something more than just convenient plot puppets.
I also wanted to mention that there is a host of queer representation at hand. Nathaniel is bisexual (and arguably demisexual, if you ask me, your resident ace), Elisabeth’s best friend, Katrien, is aromantic (and a troublemaker; she’s SO MUCH FUN), and Silas is asexual!
I actually will admit I do have one problem with the ace rep: Silas is not human. This is often more of a problem seen with nonbinary characters being limited to the nonhuman characters, but having your only confirmed asexual character be nonhuman is not my favorite thing. There’s an implication that comes with it that being human requires being a sexual being, and that…sucks.
Thankfully, Sorcery of Thorns didn’t go down that path outright, so that was more of a minor discomfort rather than a glaring issue of representation.
And while we’re talking about representation and sexuality and romance, let’s talk about the romance.
Or let’s just sit on the floor REELING from how incredible it was, how about that?
Yes, you heard me. Your resident romance Grinch is completely enamored with the way the romance played out. For one, it doesn’t minimize the important relationships in Elisabeth and Nathaniel’s lives even as they grow closer, something I was SO SO SO pleased to see. Just because they’re slowly falling in love with one another doesn’t mean they don’t have meaningful connections with other people around them!
And my use of slowly isn’t a joke. This is enemies to lovers at its finest. Mix in witty banter, the slowest of burns, hurt/comfort with one character waiting beside the other’s sickbed after near-catastrophic injury, HEIGHT DIFFERENCE (and Elisabeth is the tall one, folks 😎), and the observant third party who calls them out on their pining, and you have one of the best features of Sorcery of Thorns. Really, Elisabeth and Nathaniel’s relationship played out at such a phenomenal pace, and the kissing scenes (which I normally have very neutral feelings on) were the stuff of dreams. Every inch of the emotion was on point, and it was all wound wonderfully into the pacing for a cohesive, natural-feeling whole.
THE PACING. God, that has to be next because it was SO GOOD. Like I said earlier, stand-alones make me nervous because things can often get sacrificed in the name of squeezing it all into one book. Sometimes the plot isn’t engaging enough, or characters don’t have enough depth. But those things weren’t a problem here, because Margaret Rogerson somehow managed to plot everything so securely that I’m still in shock. What begins as a strange, violent attack on the Summershall library spirals into a plot grander than I could have imagined, more deadly than anticipated, and it still fits in less than 500 pages! It also managed to take me by surprise, and if you read my reviews with any degree of regularity, you probably know I’m a notorious plot guesser. This time, despite sharing a strikingly similar plot point to one of my favorite shows, I was still shocked and invested at every turn, only putting the pieces together at the last minute. Sometimes, it’s more satisfying not to know what’s coming until it’s almost there!
Best of all, though, Sorcery of Thorns does the thing I like best: the entire plot ultimately revolves around a message of hope. Yes, things are bad. Yes, trouble is on the horizon. Yes, the odds are against success. But again and again, Elisabeth fights back furiously, because above everything else, she holds it to be her moral duty to do the right thing. There is no question of trying to fight back, even when it seems by all rights that she should lose. There is no letting her companions take the easy way out, either; she holds Nathaniel and Silas accountable when there’s trouble, reminds them that they have the power to attempt to right wrongs, and it would be remiss of them not to put that power to work towards shaping a better world.
Sorcery of Thorns, at heart, is dripping with hope. For all the fear and impending doom that rears its head, it’s a novel that looks at the worst the world has to offer, and it counters with the reminder that people taking a stand can change everything for the better. It says that there can be positive change, that the only lost causes are the ones you’ve put no effort into changing. It gets better, it always gets better, because someone looks at the bad in the world and makes an active effort to do good.
Call me a sap, but that is one of the very best undercurrents to have in a book, one that makes me all warm and fuzzy without fail. It’s not a free pass to redemption so much as it is acknowledgement that positive change is HARD but it’s WORTH it, and I can’t get enough of it.
If you haven’t picked up Sorcery of Thorns by now, I can’t recommend it enough. It won my heart so quickly, and now it’s going to own it forever. On a craft level, it’s spectacular. On an enjoyment level, it’s outstanding. There is next to nothing about it that I disliked, and I’m left in awe of how much it managed to accomplish.
I can only hope that one day, Margaret Rogerson revisits Austermeer, and more specifically, Elisabeth and her loved ones. I’m not asking for a sequel (a good stand-alone is a treasure!), but a short story or two? A book set in the same world, with a new cast and some brief, familiar cameos? Something like that would delight me to no end.
And in the meantime, I’ll just have to reread Sorcery of Thorns.