Throughout 2022, I did miss reading a bunch of my ARCs and I’m slowly going back and reading them and writing reviews. One of those that I missed was Juniper and Thorn by Ava Reid!
Juniper & Thorn
by Ava Reid
Release date: June 21st, 2022
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.
I really enjoyed The Wolf and the Woodsman which I read in July 2021. However, Juniper and Thorn just didn’t work as well for me. I struggled to read this one, and in fact I put it down for months until I decided that I really needed to finish my ARC to finally write a review.
This is a very slow-moving book and there really isn’t a lot of plot, mainly just a lot of abuse and the main character feeling unworthy. The writing was also way more stylistic in this than in the first book, to the point where half the time I had no idea if magic was real or just a metaphor. In fact, there was quite a bit of this that was just metaphor.
I also really did not connect with the characters, and that’s something that I need in my books in order to enjoy them. They don’t necessarily need to be likable, but I do like to understand their thoughts, feelings, and motivation.
With this book being set in the same world as The Wolf and the Woodsman, there is no explanation to the social structure within this book so it’s almost a requirement to read her other book in order to fully understand the world this is set in. Throw in the fact that it’s been over a year since I read The Wolf and the Woodsman and I don’t remember much about this world. With this being a standalone set in the same world, there should’ve been more world building present in this book.
There is also a mystery of a monster killing people in the town, but there is nothing really going on with that until the very end and it was just kind of thrown in as a semblance of a plot. If someone were to ask me what exactly this book is about, I don’t even know if I would be able to describe it other than trauma and a little bit of a slapped together mystery. The first line of the synopsis also mentions the curse, and that really was just an excuse for the father to abuse all three of his daughters. I also found myself questioning if the curse was real or if the father just used it specifically to abuse his daughters.
I know from browsing through Goodreads that the author took her experiences as an abuse survivor as inspiration, I just don’t think that the execution was the best and I just couldn’t get on board with this because it was so hard for me to follow along with. because of the overly flowery writing. This entire book is trauma after trauma and can be VERY triggering so if you are going to read this, keep that in mind. Do I feel terrible that the author went through abuse? Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean I think this was a good book just because of that.
As a warning, all the relationships in this book are toxic, a lot of scenes are pretty graphic. There are graphic sex scenes, killing and dismembering of a creature (animal death), plenty of murder, cannibalism, gore and body horror, child sexual abuse and incest, antisemitism, tons of gaslighting and abuse by family members, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, bulimia with some graphic descriptions, pedophilia, sex trafficking, and also a scene including bestiality. These trigger warnings were not present in the copy that I read, and I believe a few of these were missing from the comments on Goodreads that I think would be helpful.
This just really was not a book for me and unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy reading it.