Review by Kelsey Elizabeth Moorhouse
HarperTeen, HarperCollins Canada, 10 September 2019
352 pages, hardcover, $21.99, 978-0-06269-690-8
Ages 13+, Grades 8-12
Young Adult, Fantasy, Historial Fiction
The abundance of pretty, domestic life is startling after the wildness of the fens—it’s as if I’ve wandered into a painting done all in summer-hued oils.
As I look more closely, though, I begin to see that something has gone wrong with the countryside. There’s blight on the new apple leaves. The bloated corpse of a sheep lies in a field beside the lane. A man trudges past us with a hangdog look about him, pushing a handcart that I suspect is holding everything he owns.
Things were never this way in my father’s time.
Ask seventeen-year-old Violet Sterling what she plans to be when she grows up, and she’ll give you an answer rehearsed from birth: she will be the Caretaker of her Great House, Burleigh, like her father was before her—until he died on the job, that is. And after his death, as things in the West Country become more dire, whether Violet will live long enough to see herself bestowed the Caretaker’s Key becomes the question of the hour.
The six great Houses of England possess the powerful combination of mortar and magic, which, channeled properly through a Caretaker, can result in boons to the lands surrounding them. Boons, or destruction. And in the wake of Violet’s father’s death, Burleigh House comes unhinged. Without its Caretaker, Burleigh’s unchecked magic threatens to poison the West Country by saturating its soil with mortar, and the House itself begins to die. Violet is the natural choice for Caretaker, but the King of England will not allow it, not after her father’s treason comes to light. Time is running out – not only for Burleigh House, but for Violet, and the boy she loves – the boy whose fate is bound to that of the house by a mysterious rite sealed with Burleigh’s mortar and his blood.
Weymouth’s historical fantasy—an atmospheric tale of family secrets and the power of tradition, love, and duty—is set in an England reminiscent of the nineteenth century pastoral, shot through with elements of the gothic. The descriptions of Burleigh and the West Country are alive; the magic mortar that runs through the earth as through veins underpins every choice Violet makes, driving her further and further down a path rife with danger. While Violet’s first-person narration is riddled with repetition, trite invocations to her House, and observations that seem rather obvious, her primary motivations remain tight and clear throughout the entire novel, and Weymouth masterfully reveals details and flashbacks in bits and pieces, ramping up the suspense with each chapter. Slow in the beginning but picking up speed as the end of summer approaches, Violet’s story is one of whimsy gone wrong; Burleigh is a train wreck that Violet—and readers—can’t look away from. What Weymouth lacks in style and tone, she makes up for with mood, setting, and a riveting narrative.
A Treason of Thorns is a rich and vivid fantasy perfect for fans of The Hazel Wood and Caraval, who are in the market to try something new—a novel that balances an identifiable past with fantastical magic, and a strong goal-oriented heroine with the powers-that-be. The question of who Violet considers herself to be comes down to the intricate intersections of duty, destiny, fate, and freedom: the freedom to love, and the freedom to live. But in Weymouth’s England, freedom isn’t known to come cheap.
A Treason of Thorns hits the shelves September 10, 2019.
Kelsey Moorhouse is pursuing an MA in Children’s Literature, with a focus on Young Adult fantasy and the magic of creativity, emotion, and art. Her work has been published in NoD Magazine and Contiki 6-2. Having worked as a piano teacher, lifeguard, archival assistant, and barista, she is now dedicating her time to writing her YA novel.