My love for Juniper & Thorn crept up on me. I was enjoying it, and then all of a sudden, it clicked for me and I was like, “wow”. It went from a story about sisterhood and action, to one of agency and magic. Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.
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.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
TW: eating disorder, self-harm, sexual assault, antisemitism, domestic abuse, emotional abuse
Sister stories always get to me. And Juniper & Thorn is no exception. The relationship Marlinchen has with hers is complex, difficult, and full of resentment. There are moments of care and love interspersed, but it’s largely an element that merely explores the themes of family. Because for Marlinchen, what she wants versus what her family expects of her is one of the central themes. To figure out who she is apart from them. If she were to stand alone, is explored within Juniper & Thorn and one of the main reasons I loved it.
Another theme that resonated with me, is this idea of monstrous girls. Of the insidious ways girls are seen as monstrous. When they don’t conform to what society wants from them, or what men want from them. Or when they disobey their family, follow their dreams with abandon. All the way to Marlinchen and what it means to be a magical girl and how ‘monstrous’ she is. Don’t worry Juniper & Thorn explores it all. And that’s why for me, all of a sudden while reading, it just sort of clicked.
Marlinchen has to be the number one reason I enjoyed Juniper & Thorn. Her character development and her love propelled me through and by the halfway mark, I was fully obsessed. Tackling issues of emotional manipulation within our family, Juniper & Thorn examines how we can make excuses for the ones we love and also takes time on our own to see their lies. How it can truly feel almost under a spell to be there. And so this almost sinister magical feeling is opposed to Marlinchen’s desire to explore, to have a moment of her own.
Juniper & Thorn examines the cages that contain us. That keep us within and docile. But also the ones only we have the power to break. The spaces we have to carve out for ourselves and perceptions we allow to impact our own. Juniper & Thorn is a story about agency and abuse, love and sacrifice, and the difference between family and those who love us. Find Juniper & Thorn on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop.org & The Book Depository.