Desert Isle Keeper
This title was originally self-published in 2012.
Intisar Khanani’s Thorn is a beautiful fairytale for young adults (but may honestly be read by people of all ages) about an outspoken princess touched by magic who must remake her life as a goose girl when a sorceress swaps her body with that of a servant.
Alyrra, Princess of Adania, endures a meeting with the King of Menaiya, who is hoping to successfully arrange a marriage between her and his son, Prince Kestrin. Alyrra’s reputation precedes her; she is known for her blunt honesty, a quality that has embarrassed her parents and especially her mocking brother. Always seen as a third class citizen and walking political pawn by her own family, her defiance and honesty has resulted in emotional and physical abuse from her brother and otherwise being treated as persona non grata.
But the arrangement is made, and Alyrra is instructed to travel to Menaiya with an escort of Adanian soldiers and Valka, a goose girl and daughter of Lord Daerilin, Alyrra’s mother’s most trusted vassal, who has always been snide and dismissive of Alyrra.
Valka and Alyrra have had nothing but bad blood between each other after an incident involving a stolen broach which ruined Valka’s engagement to Alyrra’s brother and shamed her in front of the servants. It is, therefore, a terrible twist of fate when an eyeless, mysterious woman known only as The Lady claims that Alyrra belongs to her thanks to a pact her mother made at her birth – and that she will claim Prince Kestrin no matter the obstacle – bodyswitches Alyrra and Valka, looping a chain around Alyrra’s neck to prevent her from telling the truth.
Alyrra welcomes her new life among the working people of Menaiya, and the process of tending to the geese. Only her horse – the witty Falada which, like the Wind, can communicate with the lonely girl in a way that she understands – knows her truest sorrows. But Prince Kestrin knows that something is wrong, even as he falls in love with Alyrra in Valka’s body – and even as Alyrra learns about the horrors endured by those living under the rule of Kestrin’s father. Will Alyrra figure out how to reclaim her body and save Prince Kestrin? Or will she choose to sink back into the quiet, anonymous life being a goose girl affords her.
Thorn is a deep, beautiful, rich story that’s so easy to get lost in. Spending pages wandering in Alyrra’s skin was a delight, though sometimes she does come off as a hair passive – though understandably so, and she does snap out of it.
The storytelling here is some of the finest I’ve ever seen. I loved the fresh take Khanani weaves from the original bits of the Goose Girl fairytale. The book waves its wand and spellbinds the reader happily, uniting magical realism with blood-and-guts honesty.
The romance between Alyrra and Kestrin is engaging and complex; as they figure each other out in spite of the obstacles thrown between them, the reader wishes them well and roots for them to overcome them all.
The side characters are fascinating, from Alyrra’s complex mother to the fellow serfs she befriends, to her horse. The biggest flaw in the story is Valka, whose villainy doesn’t have enough layers to make her interesting. The Lady has many more layers than she does; her existence in the book means I can’t take too many points off.
Torn is a wonderful, storied, twisting and turning tale. I hope it reaches hands that will cherish it.
Note: The book contains reference to the physical abuse endured by the heroine, and there is also vividly depicted animal murder and abuse, as well as portrayals of torture.