Merrie Haskell is one of those authors that always surprises me. I have gone into each of her three books expecting one thing, and getting something entirely different. Is The Castle Behind Thorns a retelling of "Sleeping Beauty"? Yes. But it is a throughly unique and different take on the story. And I adored it.
This is a review of an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.
When Sand wakes up alone in a long-abandoned castle, he has no idea how he got there. The stories all said the place was ruined by an earthquake, and Sand did not expect to find everything inside-from dishes to candles to apples-torn in half or slashed to bits. Nothing lives here and nothing grows, except the vicious, thorny bramble that prevents Sand from leaving. Why wasn't this in the stories?
To survive, Sand does what he knows best-he fires up the castle's forge to mend what he needs to live. But the things he fixes work somehow better than they ought to. Is there magic in the mending, granted by the saints who once guarded this place?
Unexpectedly, Sand finds the lost heir, Perrotte, a girl who shares the castle's astonishing secrets and dark history. Putting together the pieces-of stone and iron, and of a broken life-is harder than Sand ever imagined, but it's the only way to gain their freedom, even with the help of the guardian saints.
This is a quiet tale, one that unfolds slowly. Sand spends a large part of the opening completely alone, isolated from the world in the castle trying to figure out a way to survive. He is inventive, clever, and hard working. He is also lonely and talks to himself. These chapters didn't seem to move at all slowly to me though. The language is so beautiful and Haskell is building the mystery even as she allows the reader to get to know Sand and what he is about before she brings in the other central character, the magically awakened princess. Perotte awakens remembering she was dead. Not asleep. Dead. She pulls herself into the light of day and Sand's path, and the two of them, after a rocky start, begin to piece the castle and her story together. Perotte comes off as a spoiled and indulged brat at first, but her behavior quickly changes as she realizes how unfair she is being. As the weeks pass her and Sand develop a deep friendship and connection. But there are parts of Perotte's past she wants to keep locked away and not remember. Unfortunately she needs to confront them if they are ever going to defeat the magic of the thorns and get out of the castle.
The story here is wonderful. I love political intrigue and there is quite a bit of that, but most of all it is a tale of friendship, perseverance, and the power of forgiveness. What I loved about the forgiveness aspect is that it is not about the power to affect the forgiven, but the forgiver, that release that comes from letting your anger and bitterness go so that it no longer consumes you. The way Haskell wove this into a thoroughly original retelling of a fairy tale makes this my favorite "Sleeping Beauty" retelling of all time.
I received an e-galley from the publisher, Katherine Tegen Books, via Edelweiss. Castle Behind Thorns goes on sale May 27th.