For years, Briony has lived in the shadow of her beautiful older sister, Rosalin, and the curse that has haunted her from birth. According to the curse, on the day of her sixteenth birthday, Briony would prick her finger on a spindle and cause everyone in the castle to fall into a 100-year sleep. When the day the curse is set to fall over the kingdom finally arrives, nothing—not even Briony—can stop its evil magic.
You know the story.
But here’s something you don’t know. When Briony finally wakes up, it’s up to her to find out what’s really going on, and to save her family and friends from the murderous Thornwood. But who is going to listen to a little sister?
Thornwood looks at the classic tale of Sleeping Beauty through the eyes of the little sister. While the villain in the story is clearly the fairy queen who cast the spell, she doesn’t make an appearance until the very end. Instead, the suspense is created by the Thornwood branches that attack the castle’s inhabitants. When Briony and a group of acquaintances try to defeat the Thornwood branches, a fairy tells Briony, “The Thornwood will disappear once Rosalin dies in it.” At one point, Rosalin considers sacrificing herself to the Thornwood to save the people she loves. However, Briony is the true hero of the story because she perseveres until she finds a way to defeat the fairy queen without sacrificing her sister.
Adding Sleeping Beauty’s sister to the story is an interesting premise, however, the sister relationship is spoiled by Rosalin, who has few redeeming qualities. For the most part, Rosalin is too caught up in her looks and the prince to notice her sister. When Rosalin talks, her statements are mean and dismissive. For example, when Briony tries to help Rosalin, Rosalin tells her, “Why don’t you just leave. Nobody needs you here. Go annoy someone else.” Plus, Rosalin constantly makes fun of Briony’s hair describing it “like mud that’s been stirred with bathwater” or “a mass of frizz that’s been hit by a lightning bolt.” Anyone who has been a victim of bullying will be saddened by Rosalin’s behavior, especially because Briony already feels ignored and unimportant. Despite this, Briony never gives up on trying to help her sister.
In the end, the Royal family is not portrayed in a positive light. The parents are clueless fools, Rosalin is self-centered, and the family doesn’t consider the feelings of others. However, by the end, Briony wonders, “Had we even thought about anyone but ourselves? We had acted like this was our story. Like the other people in it—everyone in this castle, and outside it, too—were minor details we didn’t have to pay attention to.” The conclusion has a typical happy ending that attempts to show that your station in life doesn’t determine your worth. However, if you’re looking for a fabulous fairy tale, you should leave Thornwood on the shelf and instead read The Prince Problem by Vivian Vande Velde or the Royal Academy Rebels Series by Jen Calonita.
- In order to wake Rosalin, a prince kisses her. Briony sees the kiss and thinks, “I wish I had gotten there thirty seconds later. . . It wasn’t a gross kiss. Just a peck on the lips—polite and distant—and then the prince stepped back from the bed.”
- The story implies that Rosalin and the prince kiss. Briony “looked pointedly away and caught Edwin doing the same. We both snickered.”
- When the prince thinks Rosalin is about to die, he professes his love and then kisses her. Briony thinks, “This time, the kissing was gross.”
- After the castle is free from the Thornwood, Rosalin “claims that she only ‘likes’ the electrician who had been modernizing the castle, and she’s ‘not interested in getting serious with anyone right now.’ I mean, she’s already kissed him more times than she kissed Varian, back when she thought he was her destined husband.”
- While Briony searches the castle, the Thornwood grabs her. “Something snapped around my wrist, driving sharp spikes into my skin. . .The branch that had grabbed me yanked back so hard that I was dragged towards the window. . .the branch pulled, slowly and steadily. Thorns dug into my wrist with sharp stabs of fiery pain.” Someone saves her. The scene is described over three pages.
- When Briony, Edwin, Rosalin, and the prince try to leave the castle, the Thornwood attacks. “The ground around Edwin exploded, clumps of dirt flying as barbed vines broke through the earth. One wrapped itself around his ankle. . . another snapped around his wrist. . . Edwin had been pulled to the ground, and a thorny branch was crawling up his arm over his shoulder.” The Thornwood attacks everyone except for the prince. Rosalin’s fairy godmother saves them, but Edwin is seriously injured. The scene is described over six pages.
- When the fairy godmother gets Edwin out of the Thornwood, Edwin is a “bruised and bloody creature. . . He was unconscious, his clothes in shreds and stuck to his body with dried blood.”
- The Thornwood gets into the castle. The branches attack Rosalin. Briony “lunged for them and grabbed the largest, pulling at it with my bare hands. It could have encircled me easily, but it was too busy trying to get to Rosalin.” When they get Rosalin free, Briony, Edwin, and the prince run into a tower.
- When they get to the tower, “A thorn snagged my [Briony’s] hair and pulled several strands out, with a burst of pain that brought new tears to my eyes. I wrenched myself free, into the golden light.” The tower scene is described over five pages.
- Briony traps the fairy queen. But then, “She reached out and grabbed me by the throat. . . she lifted me from the floor, and I couldn’t’ breathe. I tried to scream, but couldn’t do that, either. Panic filled me as I struggled to draw air into my lungs and no air came.” Rosalin and Edwin save Briony.
Drugs and Alcohol
- After sleeping for over 100 years, Rosalin discovers that the castle is surrounded by thorns. “There are some princes that come there [the village] to try to fight their way through the Thornwood and wake the beautiful princess sleeping in the castle. They need a place to sleep. . . and lots of ale.”
- Before the castle fell asleep, Edwin was apprenticed to the blacksmith. The blacksmith “was not a good man. He got angry a lot, and drunk, and he let the other apprentices—”
- When Briony goes to the apothecary, she finds it to be a mess. “The pots on the shelves were knocked over sideways or smashed on the floor. . .” Someone suggested that people were looking for wine and didn’t find it.
- When the prince finds an empty jug that smells like alcohol, he says, “Someone in this castle is very drunk right now.” Later, the royal wizard shows up to the ball drunk. He tells the king and queen, “I have been working great and terrible magics to figure out a way to release us from our plight. I had to partake of wine so I could access the depths of. . . um. . .”
- The prince offers Rosalin a bite of her birthday cake. When she refuses the cake, he eats it. Then, “his eyes went wide. He fell over sideways, straight as a log. The fork with its remnant of cake flew out of his hand, skittering across the dance floor. . .” The cake had been poisoned.
- Briony uses “oh curses” as an exclamation once.
- A boy calls Edwin “sniveler.”
- Rosalin calls Briony an idiot.
- Rosalin often makes rude comments about Briony’s hair. For example, Rosalin says, “And fix your hair. You look like a Pegasus caught in a windstorm.”
- The story takes place in Sleeping Beauty’s magical kingdom, where magic exists.
- The castle is surrounded by Thornwood, a living plant that tries to trap people. When the branches are cut, “they hissed as if they had been burned.”
- Briony sees a strange bird that “cocked its head and looked straight at me, and then it wasn’t a bird at all. It was a woman—a creature that looked like a woman—with shimmery dragonfly wings whirring behind her back.”
- After the curse is broken, the fairy godmother throws a birthday ball. “The doors of the kitchen swung open and a cart rolled out. Rosalin’s birthday cake teetered on top.”
- The prince says a fairy gave him a magical sword that can help him fight off the Thornwood.
- Briony trips and puts her hand out to catch herself. “My palm landed right on a thorn. I screamed and pulled back. I expected the branches to wrap around my wrist. Instead, they all arced toward the thorn that had pierced my skin. A drop of blood dripped from the thorn’s tip, and one of the branches, swooped low to catch it.”
- The tower room has a magic spinning wheel. Briony uses the spinning wheel to create magical, gold thread. The Thornwood “seemed to flinch back from the gold thread.”
- Rosalin believes that the only way to save the castle from the Thornwood is to sacrifice herself, which she considers. Rosalin says, “It needs my blood. Once it has it, you’ll be free. You’ll all be safe. . . Name your first child after me.” Rosalin “thrust both hands into the thorns. Their hiss rose around us, sharp and sibilant and triumphant.”
- Briony discovers that her blood repels the Thornwood. She “jabbed [her] palm into the spindle of the spinning wheel. It hurt. It really hurt. For one blinding second, the pain was all there was. Then I blinked out tears and saw that the thorns had drawn back even farther, leaving a larger space around the spinning wheel than they had before. My blood had given the spinning wheel power.”
- Briony realizes that “No one, no prince, no savior, had come to us through the Thornwood. [The prince] had come from it.” Then Briony uses the magical gold thread. She “brought the thread down over his head and around his neck. I crisscrossed the ends and pulled them, making a noose that tightened against his throat.”
- When Briony puts the golden thread around the prince, he changes. “His body shimmered; his face lengthened; his eyes grew larger. Two wings, blacker than black, snapped shut over his shoulder blades. He didn’t look like a woman, but he wasn’t a man either. He was a creature. A being. A center of power.” The prince was the fairy queen in disguise.