REVIEW: Heart of Thorns (Heart of Thorns #1) by Bree Barton

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Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Length: 464 pages

Release date: 31 July 2018

Amazon UK | Amazon US

In the ancient river kingdom, touch is a battlefield, bodies the instruments of war. Seventeen-year-old Mia Rose has pledged her life to hunting Gwyrach: women who can manipulate flesh, bones, breath, and blood.

Not women. Demons. The same demons who killed her mother without a single scratch.

But when Mia’s father suddenly announces her marriage to the prince, she is forced to trade in her knives and trousers for a sumptuous silk gown. Only after the wedding goes disastrously wrong does she discover she has dark, forbidden magic—the very magic she has sworn to destroy.

 

Trust your heart, even if it kills you.

 

The more YA fantasies I read with gorgeous covers and clichéd stories, the less patience I have for them. Heart of Thorns joins Ash Princess and Everless as 2018 releases that fall squarely into this category for me. Although there’s an attempt at the empowerment platitudes that have recently become so popular in YA, it can’t hold up a stale, lazy plot that insults readers’ intelligence.

My biggest issue with Heart of Thorns is that many characters’ actions make no logical sense. It isn’t the case of flaky character development once or twice, it happens again and again with no self-awareness, to the point where I had to reread pages to check whether I’d missed an explanation of why Person X had suddenly done something completely out of character and nobody noticed or cared.

I tend to be more lenient of plot holes than most reviewers–as long as the underlying character development is sound, I value that over plot–but this is just ridiculous how Bree Barton’s characters react in totally unrealistic ways. For example Person X tries to murder Person Y and almost succeeds. Later on Person Y meets Person X and finds out what happened, and how do you think Person Y feels? Rage, fear, hatred or some emotion along those lines, right?

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You wish. Instead, Person Y doesn’t even blink beyond a few lines of dialogue that are more aptly described as ‘mild annoyance’ than anything you’d expect to feel after learning that someone almost murdered you, and a few chapters later they become buddies.

Dear Bree Barton, I know you want to write the SISTAHOOD where your feminist heroines put aside their differences and unite, but come on, even Sarah J. Maas writes more realistic interactions than this. Again, if it was just once I might forgive it as an editorial oversight, but these wtf moments happen repeatedly throughout the novel. That the protagonist doesn’t seem perturbed at all makes her look frankly quite ignorant.

Speaking of Mia Rose, Heart of Thorns‘s weak plot is weak partially because Mia is such a reactive character. She spends the whole book playing catch-up to peers who know far more information and are far more competent than her, even as she believes she’s brilliant and logical (hint: she’s not). The author tries to throw her into the club of clever YA protagonists by having her narration make references to human anatomy every other page. Instead she joins the club of r/iamverysmart characters because the way to make your protagonist clever isn’t to make them spout obnoxious trivia, it’s to have them make good decisions that actually help them reach their goals.

Yes, reactive protagonists can be written well, typically with the help of superior world-building and character development. Heart of Thorns has neither. The worldbuilding is awfully gimmicky–not the worst, but still bogged with unoriginal ideas such as changing the spellings of English words (volcanoes are now volqanoes–look, this is a fresh high fantasy world!) and societies which are clearly Welsh, Hispanic and Scandinavian-inspired. Nothing wrong with either of these things, but we need more than that.

Oh, and there’s another useless, cheesy romance that I was more annoyed by because it wasn’t mentioned in the synopsis. At least with Everless and Ash Princess I knew what I was getting into because the synopsis announced loudly that the protagonist would be falling for the prince she’s supposed to hate. Heart of Thorns just hits you on the head with its boring romance a while in. A real waste of words that could have been allotted to Mia actually learning about her magic and her background.

Finally, this story has a huge obsession with the power of intuition over logic. The message is reiterated countless times that Mia needs to follow her heart even if it kills her, because her reason will lead her astray. Well…

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I couldn’t understand why Bree Barton was so adamant that the heart win at the expense of science. To be honest, it makes me pretty uncomfortable as this book is getting published at a time when so many people are already inclined to disregard science in favour of their uninformed gut feelings.

It also made for some flimsy storytelling. As Barton’s magic is so heavily based on emotions and vague spirituality, there’s no consistency to her magical system. There’s no logic behind any use of magic; it just happens. How? By the character being in touch with her emotions, or channeling her feelings, or thinking happy thoughts and all sorts of tripe. Why even have a plot then? Any time Mia faces conflict, she can just feeeeeel harder until her magic works it out.

Sounds a lot like alternative medicine to me. Maybe the second book will improve, but I wouldn’t know–my intuition tells me that I won’t be reading it.

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