Book Review: Thorn Jack by Katherine Harbour
A review copy was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Series: Book 1 of Night and Nothing
Publisher: Harper Voyager (6/24/14)
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Thorn Jack has been on my to-read list for a while, but nothing could have prepared me for magical story I found when I cracked open its pages. I was also delighted to find out that it’s a modern retelling inspired by “Tam Lin”.
First of all, I love creative reimaginings of all sorts; myths, folklore, fairytales – you name it, I want it. Second, if it’s a retelling of a story I’m not as familiar with…well, that actually just makes me even more interested. Needless to say, I had to go and brush up on the old Scottish legendary ballad while reading this book. There are many versions, but most variants of “Tam Lin” involve a mortal woman rescuing her true love held captive by the Queen of the Fairies, and like most old stories involving the Fae, it encompasses some pretty dark themes. Thorn Jack may be a modern retelling, but it likewise features some of the same themes, including those surrounding the power of young woman’s determination and courage.
So if you enjoy reading about strong, dedicated and genuine female protagonists, you’ll definitely like Finn Sullivan. We come upon her at a very dark time of her life, though. The recent suicide of her sister Lily Rose is an open wound on her heart as Finn and her father move from San Diego to a small town called Fair Hollow in upstate New York. While unpacking, Finn finds Lily Rose’s journal, filled with mad ramblings about strange occurrences and dark creatures that have preyed on humanity for hundreds of years. Dismissing these as her sister’s fanciful stories, Finn puts this aside and goes back to her grieving.
However, it soon becomes clear that things in Fair Hollow are not as they seem. Something feels wrong, and it all seems to revolve around the town’s most wealthiest and notorious family, the Fatas. When Finn and her new college friends are invited to a lakeside party, she immediately becomes drawn to one of the Fatas, a mysterious young man named Jack. But as they grow closer, the more unsettled Finn feels in spite of herself. So much about Jack and his family reminds her of Lily Rose’s journal and her sister’s descriptions of the “Children of Night and Nothing”. There’s an enigmatic, sinister air around the Fatas, but are they really dangerous? And what have they got to do with Lily Rose’s suicide?
Walking into Katherine Harbour’s world of Thorn Jack is like walking into a modern fairytale, a little bit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Once Upon a Time. Also, you know you’re in for a good time whenever there are Fae involved, though these Fae are unlike any I’ve ever seen. Their characteristics make me think they are an amalgamation of many different kinds of monsters and creatures, with traits that bring to mind vampires, shapeshifters, ghostly spirits and more. There’s some excellent world-building going on here; I sensed the dark wonder and otherworldliness of Fair Hollow as soon as Finn and her father arrived at their new home. Harbour has created an almost palpable atmosphere, the kind that slowly seeps off the page to send tingles up your arms.
There’s also a heavy element of romance. After all, the story is based on a legend about a man rescued by his true love, so I went into Thorn Jack expecting the plot to center on a romantic relationship. My only issue with it is that it was a bit slow to take off. Part of the reason for this is because the narrative meanders quite a bit, occasionally branching out into small side threads and different POVs. Fortunately, in many cases the characters make up for much of it. While the story might not be constantly moving forward, I loved getting to know Christie and Sylvie (whom I pictured in my mind as Finn’s Xander and Willow) and I got to enjoy reading about the different members of the extended Fata family in all their creepy and dangerous glory. Even the various townies and seemingly innocuous professors at Finn’s college have hidden secrets. Part of the fun was discovering the mysteries of Fair Hollow and its people.
This book also turned out to be a wonderful read for October especially as we approach Halloween (which plays a significant role in this book, much like it did in the ballad of Tam Lin). It’s the time of the year when the leaves are starting to turn and the days are getting colder and shorter, and I found Thorn Jack and its mystical and eerie vibes to be incredibly immersive even though it’s not a horror novel and there’s nothing overtly frightening about the story. What Katherine Harbour has done here is really cool; she has reinvented a legend and put it into a modern package while making sure to preserve all the beauty and magic and seduction.