Panicked horses draw a carriage up to the Great Library. A Class Eight grimoire, bound in an iron coffer secured with more than a dozen locks, rattles inside the vehicle. A pair of wardens jump down from the driver’s seat.
The grimoire – the Book of Eyes – is centuries old and has driven dozens of people mad. As an apprentice librarian, Elisabeth shouldn’t be anywhere near it. But the library’s Director specifically summoned her here to help.
The Director must be testing Elisabeth. If she fails, the Book of Eyes will claim her life. But if she manages to survive this encounter, then she’ll show she really is a warden in the making. That is Elisabeth’s dearest wish: to prove herself worthy to the Director by becoming a warden herself. After all, she owes the Director everything. If it hadn’t been for her, Elisabeth would have been raised in an orphanage.
As Elizabeth and the Director carry the foul-smelling book down into the vault where the most dangerous tomes are isolated, it lurches in its bindings and tries to break free. When they reach its appointed cell, the table in the middle is gouged with enormous gashes. It looks like a demon clawed it. Grimoires that are damaged turn into Maleficts, huge monsters of ink and leather that kill the villagers and ravage the countryside. The wardens risk their own lives in hunting down and destroying them.
A Malefict must have been born on that very expanse of wood.
While the Director examines the Book of Eyes for damage, keeping the greasy black volume contained in a circle of salt and wearing iron-lined gloves, the grimoire opens its warty eyes and fastens them on Elisabeth. Sensing her inexperience and vulnerability, it calls to her, a whisper that threads through her mind…
She tries to ignore the voice, but it’s no use. Her gaze drifts down to the book… She feels like she’s sinking… The Director’s voice comes from very far away, as though she’s speaking underwater…
The Director slams the cover, waking Elisabeth from her stupor. Realizing how close she came to succumbing, Elisabeth doesn’t understand why the Director congratulates her for holding the book off for so long. The Director had exposed Elisabeth on purpose, wanting her to experience real danger. The Director advises her to think about whether she really wants to become a warden, when there are many paths open to her. Elisabeth doesn’t understand that, either. Doesn’t the Director think she has what it takes?
A few weeks later, Elisabeth wakes in the middle of the night only to discover the Director’s dead body lying in the library. The front doors are open. Elisabeth races through them and sees the nightmare come to life.
The Book of Eyes has transformed into a Malefict. The monster lumbers toward the sleeping village. The people are utterly defenseless against it.
There’s no time to find a warden. Elisabeth has pledged to do her duty onto death – she grabs the Director’s sword and takes after the monster alone.
Sorcery of Thorns is a thrilling gothic fantasy. Full of demons of dubious alliances, stone statues that suddenly come to life, scrying glasses, bloodletting rituals, magic circles and pentagrams, this book serves up perfect Halloween fare. Each setting is more delicious than the last – Rogerson takes us from the stacks of the Great Library, with its moaning, complaining, and whispering grimoires, to the dimly lit townhouse of a mysterious wizard, to a glittering palace during a high-fashion ball.
The plot is driven by equal parts daring-do and love story, with a good dose of humor thrown in. Readers flip pages as fast as they can not only to watch the dauntless orphan Elisabeth try to save the world, but also to follow her relationship with the realm’s most eligible bachelor, the sardonic Magister Thorn. While Elisabeth rushes into danger with the selflessness of a true hero, the debonair Thorn does so with a fatalistic sigh. Readers delight in understanding Thorn better than Elisabeth does, and Elisabeth’s artless remarks combined with Thorn’s choked responses make us laugh out loud. In this way, the interpersonal dynamics in Sorcery of Thorns reminded me of those between Catherine Morland and Mr. Tilney in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Sly references to Elisabeth’s paranoid fantasies about magicians, which she developed by reading gothic novels, reinforced this comparison. When the interplay between Elisabeth and Thorn aren’t riveting readers, we are fascinated by Thorn’s demonic servant Silas, whose perfect Remains of the Day act is somehow creepier than outright ghoulishness would be.
I routinely start my reviews with a brief recap of the opening chapters of a book, figuring that the author’s tactics to hook a reader may also be used to hook a prospective one. Midway through, I jot down notes about the inciting incidents. But Sorcery of Thorns is utterly immersive. I was drawn so completely into the narrative so fast that even only a few chapters in, I couldn’t remember how it began and couldn’t be bothered to care, despite already knowing I intended to review it. All I wanted to do was continue reading. Sorcery of Thorns itself is a grimoire, and I, like Elisabeth with the Book of Eyes, had fallen under its spell.
Margaret Rogerson is the New York Times bestselling author of An Enchantment of Ravens. Margaret K. McElderry Books published Sorcery of Thorns on June 4, 2019, and it landed the Number #5 spot on the New York Times bestseller list for Young Adult Hardcover on June 22. The only reason this book fits in Young Adult is because of the age of the heroine. Adults will enjoy it as well.
The publisher lists the hardcover’s price as $17.99, the ebook’s price as $10.99, and the audiobook download as $23.99. Ready for an excerpt to enchant you, too? Point your browser here.
Elizabeth Galewski is the author of The Wish-Granting Jewel, a fantasy novel, and Butterfly Valley, a tale of travel and transformation based on true events. To learn more, please visit her official author’s website at www.elizabethgalewski.com.