Heart of Thorns (Heart of Thorns, # 1)
By: Bree Barton
Expected Publication: July 31st 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss (Thank you!!)
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Goodreads description--In the ancient river kingdom, touch is a battlefield, bodies the instruments of war. Seventeen-year-old Mia Rose has pledged her life to hunting Gwyrach: women who can manipulate flesh, bones, breath, and blood.
Not women. Demons. The same demons who killed her mother without a single scratch.
But when Mia's father suddenly announces her marriage to the prince, she is forced to trade in her knives and trousers for a sumptuous silk gown. Only after the wedding goes disastrously wrong does she discover she has dark, forbidden magic—the very magic she has sworn to destroy.
Heart of Thorns had a slow start to me. Typical young girl betrothed to a prince she doesn't love and assumes her marriage is doomed to be loveless without even knowing her soon to be husband. She's mad at her father for arranging such a marriage. Especially when all she wants to do is hunt down and exact revenge on her mother's murderer. Eh. I was bored. During this time Mia experiences some events and feelings that felt very disorienting to me. Of course, the reason for that is because Mia has magic that she doesn't know about (not a spoiler because it is in the description). I knew this to be the case, but I still felt like these scenes could have been handled in a better way that would have been less jarring to me.
Once Mia has her first undeniable experience with her magic and she and Prince Quin become allies on the run together, things got interesting to me. These two go from combatants to allies and reluctant friends to some sparks of feelings. During this time my interest was piqued and I wanted to keep reading to find out if Mia and Quin's feelings were real or if Quin was simply enthralled by Mia and her magic. Even though this was the most interesting part of the story for me, I still felt lulls in the pacing of the book and my interest would lag at times.
Mia and Quin finally cross the border of Glas Ddir and the river kingdom and it feels like they've stumbled into an alternate reality. Even though this isn't a case of alternate dimensions, the feeling for me was the same. And unfortunately, I don't tend to enjoy this feeling in books.
Also unfortunately when we get to 60% the political messages of this book really begin to amp up and continue until 75% when I ultimately decided to DNF. Let's address them...First off, there's the major feminism message. Now I have nothing against girl-power (being a woman myself and all). I have nothing against equal rights between men and women or in the belief that the two sexes are equal. What I do take issue with is men-bashing. And that's what this story felt like to me. It wasn't about women's empowerment. It was about how all men have dominated, raped, and tried to silence all women throughout all of human history. Some quotes to back this up:
-"For the entirety of human history, weak men have been afraid of powerful women."
-"For centuries," Lauriel began, "men have found ever-new ways of oppressing women. Our bodies have been receptacles, both container and contained; our wombs soft and pliant for the children we were meant to bear our husbands, whether we wanted to or not. We have been restricted, silenced, and confined."
-Men have always been threatened by the power of women.
-"Ah yes, I suppose it's true what they say: girls will be girls." (stated obviously by some moronic and sexist male)
This isn't even taking into account that there are basically 6 male characters mentioned in the entirety of the 75% of this book that I read. There's the evil king who wants nothing more than to subject, silence, and rape most women. There's the evil duke who wants to kill the prince and assume the succession of the crown who also happens to be a sexual pervert (while not specifically stated as such this is hinted at). There's the prince himself who (minor spoiler) turns out to be bisexual. And then there's Mia's long time friend Dom who turns out to be gay. And Mia's father who was manipulated by and potentially hated her mother, who lead the kingdom in hunting down women with magical powers, who has likely spent most if not all of Mia's life lying to her. There's no heterosexual male character that was decent at all.
I also found myself annoyed by the back and forth nature of the "facts" surrounding Mia's childhood, her parents, their relationship, and how they both felt about her. While I realize that DNFing kept me from getting to the ultimate revelations that Mia certainly had over all of these situations, I just felt like she was so quick to judge things as fact without having or considering all of the information. She was quick to place blame and hate upon people who likely didn't feel those things, and that coincides with the overall message I felt from this book--especially it's portrayal of men in general.
Obviously as I'm mentioned, there's gay and bisexual characters which I don't expect to never see in fiction, but I am so over and beyond feeling like these characters have been pushed down my throat over the last ten years of reading. Even though this always annoys me, I wouldn't have felt so strongly about it had Heart of Thorns not felt like such a political statement. Quin turning out to be bisexual was the straw that broke the camel's back and ended up being the deciding factor for me to DNF this book. Truly I'd been feeling a weight upon me every time I had an opportunity to read and I found myself dreading picking Heart of Thorns rather than being excited to see what was going to happen next. This is not how I want to feel while reading.
And you know what is probably the smallest but most annoying thing of all...in this fictional, fantasy world, I felt some President Trump bashing. My political and personal opinions of him as a person and as a President of the United States don't even come into play here. If I can pick up the major hints that you're dropping about this subject in your fictional fantasy world then you've done something seriously wrong here. I personally do not read for politics. I don't want to know, nor do I care what the political stance is of any given author. That crap doesn't belong in my reading life.
And you know what's so sad about all of this? The writing of Heart of Thorns wasn't so bad. I was impressed with the vocabulary that made sense but even caused me to look up the definition of a few words. That's always a good thing in my opinion as long as it doesn't happen too often. I even had a few quotes highlighted that I liked and looked forward to initally sharing under my "favorite quotes" section. Bree Barton did, however, use the word "tributary" a few too many times, but overall had all of the political messages and propaganda been removed, I likely would have ended up really enjoying Heart of Thorns. I don't rate DNF books because I don't feel like that's fair and the DNF stands for itself on how I felt about a book, but if I did, Heart of Thorns would likely receive the lowest rating unless the last 25% could somehow redeem itself for the beating I took over the political messages. And for me to DNF a book with so little left to finish really says a lot. Have you read Heart of Thorns? What did you think? Let me know!