A hitchhiker’s guide to your next favourite book
Matt Shipley (he/him) // Co-Editor-In-Chief
Sorcery of Thorns, by Margaret Rogerson
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, the books transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.
I’ll admit this right away — I read this as an audiobook. I’ve done a bunch of research since, just to make sure I’m spelling everything correctly, but forgive me if I let my assumed spellings slip through once or twice. The narrator had a wonderfully character-accurate voice, but it still took me over a week to consume because of the sheer length of the audiobook. In book form, it’s a medium-length read — not an afternoon jaunt, but doable in a day. Its world is inventive, its romance interesting, and its characters are, for the most part, round and unique.
So, let’s tear it apart, shall we?
First off: This was one of the more interesting fantasy worlds I have ever come across. The magic system seems at once incredibly complicated and bafflingly simple. Sorcerers summon demons and bargain away their lives for the gift of sorcery — seems easy enough. The way that Great Libraries and their grimoires fit into that system was never really made clear, though, and I found that side of Austermeer’s magic to be far more intriguing. I mean, books that can turn into city-destroying, ink-bleeding monsters if they don’t receive daily compliments? That’s cool.
The Good: As I mentioned before, the world and magic system are what makes this book unique. The fact that we don’t understand how a summoning works until over halfway through the book means that it leads us in all sorts of unexpected directions, but in my eyes, that’s a good thing, and I’ll get to why in a minute. The prose was scintillating, if a bit too simile-infested. The descriptions were especially powerful — not too lengthy, but enough to draw me into the world and hold me there. The place names were, in my mind, near-perfect — not obtrusively Welsh, yet still very fantasy-ish. I must admit though, when I looked at the world map and found out that Somerschal was actually spelled Summershall, I was a little miffed.
The Bad: I only have a couple of talking points here, but they’re big ones. Firstly, the romance was better suited to a small-time swoon novel than a fantasy book. The “of course” moments were just too common — of course, the Evil Sorcerer that Elisabeth is so afraid of turns out to be a normal, cute guy around her age. Of course, he’s under immense pressure to find a partner. Of course, everyone calls him the world’s most eligible bachelor (sigh.) There were more moments like this outside of the romance, but those were the main ones. Secondly, the book didn’t give nearly enough credit to the reader in some places. The fact that it took Elisabeth multiple chapters to realize that Ashcroft was completing a pentagram, when I knew it as soon as the possibility was introduced (on a crowded bus, having never seen the world map or a single word on a page) felt a bit disrespectful to the reader.
All in all, this book was enjoyable. I definitely don’t regret my time listening to it, but it wouldn’t be my first recommendation to anyone who wouldn’t relate to its main character on a spiritual level. Honestly, as an author, it’s worth reading just for the newness of the magic system and the inventive ideas that come with it. If you’re bookish, and more into swoon-worthy romance stories than fantasy, this might be the grimoire for you. It’s possibly the best halfway point between the two genres that I’ve ever run into.