Last year's Ash & Bramble was one of my favorite books of the year. I was very much anticipating its follow-up Rose & Thorn so when author Sarah Prineas offered to send me an ARC, I said YES very quickly. I'm happy to say it is excellent and my favorite Sleeping Beauty reworking yet.
Rose has lived her entire life with her guardian Shoe in a valley protected by the Penwitch's power. When the protection is broken, Rose's circumstances change overnight and she must venture into the world on her own. The Forest brings her to the City where the Watchers carefully guard against the power of story. Instantly recognized as Cursed by Story, Rose is taken to the Citadel to have her curse removed.
Griff is the son of the Protector of the city and lives an austere life. The Watchers fight Story by living rational lives that leave no room for anything other than duty. As a Watcher and a Curse Eater, it is Griff's task to remove Rose's curse. When he can't do that due to its actually being three curses braided together, he is tasked with guarding her and using her to draw out the rebellious Breakers working in the City to fight Story's power through stories of their own.
Rose is determined to flee the city with the help of the Breakers and ends up dragging Griff reluctantly along. Forced to take refuge in a castle during a storm, Rose, Griff, and their companions find themselves caught in Story's web but are willing to fight its power with every weapon they have.
Rose & Thorn takes place several decades after the end of Ash & Bramble. It is very much its own story and I think it can stand well on its own from a plot standpoint. A lot of the world building is done in Ash & Bramble, but the world has changed a bit for this story too. Ash & Bramble is a perfect blend of fairy tale and dystopia. Rose & Thorn is likewise an interesting mix, though different in some aspects. In the City there is a perfect picture of what happens when you try to avoid one danger and up ending in a different one entirely. The lives of the City people are desolate and sad and lacking vibrancy. There is more than one way to enslave a person and though the City is mostly free of Story, they are now enslaved to Rationality. I loved this contrast and how both are dangerous. It's also interesting that the rational austerity of the Watchers actually make them, particularly Griff who longs for light and love, more vulnerable to Story.
Rose and Griff are main characters it is easy to like and feel sympathetic toward. Rose is beautiful. She is a fairly tale princess after all, but she is really oblivious to this. She has lived her entire life with an old man who loved her for being Rose so her first venture into the outer world is fraught with danger. It doesn't take long for her to discover that her looks are dangerous to her. Rose has a core of steel though and she works hard to forge her own path. She is a vivacious chatterbox who wants to see the good and possibility in everything. She is naive but not stupid, optimistic but not oblivious. Griff is the strong silent type. I usually don't really like this type of hero (mainly because it tends to get in the way of good banter which is what I like best in romantic pairings), but Griff really works for me. He is incredibly dedicated to duty and doing what he is ordered to. At every turn in this story, he is confronted with something new that changes how he has to see himself and the world. His austere upbringing did not equip him for that. It certainly didn't equip him to deal with Rose, who is constantly bouncing up to him and breaking through his reserve. I really loved the two of them together. As in most tales of this nature, their relationship develops incredibly fast but they do know each other well. Rose being Rose is even able to fantastically banter with his silences. So that's fun. I loved how she was the one who took most of the initiative in their relationship too. They are very much opposites but not in a way that puts them in opposition. It's in a way that they work well together side by side and need each other to thrive. (Ahem. See title and cover imagery.)
Rose and Griff are joined by Griff's Watcher partner Quirk and a Breaker woman named Timothy. These two are equally as important as Rose and Griff and I loved them just as much. They have really good chemistry and fill in the banter when needed. Quirk and Timothy are both connected to the story in Ash & Bramble so they have more knowledge of what the group is fighting and how to do it, but even they are blind when it comes to much of what is going on under the surface. There knowledge also prejudices them in ways that are sometimes detrimental.
Many of themes from Ash & Bramble are revisited here though from a different angle and I appreciated that. I liked how Prineas flipped a lot of things around that I can't get into because of spoilers. Above everything though I enjoyed the look at what happily ever after looks like outside of Story. That it is full of heartache, joy, and the memories of a life well lived.
I read an ARC sent to me by the author. Rose & Thorn goes on sale October 18.