“Heart of Thorns” by Bree Barton | Witchcraft + Women!

Rating: 1/2

We are magicians because of our suffering. A woman’s body can survive only so much abuse before our very blood and bones rise up in revolt.

Witches who can snuff out life with the slightest whisper of a touch. Ancient, glorious, forbidden magic. Cruel kings and a vicious palace filled with pawns. What more could I ask for in a book? 

(Turns out, a lot of things.)

Alas, the promising synopsis—and, may I add, the absolutely breathtaking cover—failed to truly deliver. Heart of Thorns was disappointingly mediocre, and my overall experience with it can be summed up with a simple yet quite pertinent phrase: been there, read that.

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Genre: YA Fantasy | Publication Date: July 31, 2018

🌹What’s the story?🌹

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.

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🌹Plot & Writing🌹

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First, the positives: I adored the empowering feminist themes, and how Barton emphasized the transformative power of community.

However, for the most part, the storyline was reasonable but unsatisfying, stuffed with so many previously encountered tropes that I was immediately slapped by an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. Not to mention that the author didn’t just leave breadcrumbs to foreshadow, she essentially dumped fifty pounds of flour ALL the way to the next embarrassingly evident plot twist. Perhaps this may be more suitable for a younger audience or for newer readers of fantasy, who would be able to appreciate the plot much more than I did.

Bree Barton can definitely write. She has some of these absolutely mesmerizing descriptive quotes: “The sun had turned a simmering orange as it hung suspended above the ocean, and Mia felt birdlike, a winged creature suspended between worlds.”

Unfortunately, the initial “villains” felt laughably one-dimensional, the info-dumping overly excessive, and the dialogue stilted at best. Here are just a few gems from the text that I’ve highlighted for your amusement:

“You’re beautiful when you lie.” He quickly added, “Not to diminish you or suggest that beauty is an indicator of your worth.” [Back off, suffragettes, because Prince Quin is COMING FOR YOUR SPOT.]

“The books are not blank. They are only empty to those who try to read them with their eyes, instead of with their hearts.” [Thanks! Next time I’ll be sure to squeeze my eyes  shut and FEEL the book with my soul as I read.]

“The greatest gift of an inquisitive mind is its ability to silence its own inquisitions.” [This totally makes complete sense.]

Thankfully, during the last couple of chapters, the book definitely picked up the pace in the best way possible. I guiltily admit that I was skim-reading at that point, but I was pleasantly surprised by the unique and engaging plot elements Barton eventually tossed in. She deviated from the formulaic writing of the first half of the story and ended on a gorgeously open-ended note, hence the 2.5 stars!

Okay, and there’s one vaguely problematic element in the story that slightly irked me. Warning: what comes next will be a bit spoiler-y, but I feel like it’s important to the review.  Near the end, one character faces an attempted rape. This, in my opinion, felt wholly unnecessary; it merely reinforced the “villainous” nature of one of our antagonists and added nothing to the plot but shock value, which is just in poor taste. Again, this is just my opinion, and perhaps the true significance of it flew right over my head. Regardless, I firmly believe that the book would have been just fine—perhaps even better—without that scene.


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For her sister, she would die a thousand deaths. To save her sister, she was about to.

To be completely honest, our lovely protagonist, Mia Rose, seemed like just another cut-and-paste main character with zero complexity. I like my heroines compelling and morally ambiguous, and Mia was the literal opposite of that. Heads up, everyone—sprinkling in arrogance and magic to a bland-as-bread heroine doesn’t make her badass nor likeable.

Apparently, Mia is “smart”—and I say this with emphatic air quotes—and defined by her obsession with science and facts. She’ll remind you of her brilliance every other sentence by throwing in a fancy-schamncy scientific word that caused my eyes to roll so far back in my head that it looked like I was having a seizure.

Mia checks all the boxes of Generic Fantasy Heroine: drop-dead gorgeous, **plot twist** hidden powers, pitiful attempts at being snarky, not to mention noble (“I AM DRIVEN SOLELY BY LOVE FOR MY SISTER AND I HAVE A HEART OF GOLD AND I WILL END UP SINGLE-HANDEDLY SAVING MY COUNTRY OUT OF THE GOODNESS OF MY HEART”).

(Okay, she obviously didn’t really say that, but that’s basically what she does.)

On the other hand, Quin, a bisexual prince, was hands-down the most sympathetic character. He’s literally everything a partner would ask for in life—soft, sweet, great at cooking, but not to be underestimated. Although he initially comes off as aloof, we quickly realize that he’s basically a fluffy teddy bear who deserves all the love in the world. Sadly, even he seemed a bit too much like the generic fantasy love interest—handsome, outwardly cold but with a secret heart of pure gold.

🌹Final Thoughts🌹

Magic is born in the margins. It is nurtured among the vulnerable and broken. It is our bodies crying out for justice, seeking to right centuries of wrongs.

Like I said before, the ending was the saving grace of this entire book. It was beautiful, bittersweet, and wonderfully written. Mia’s character, who I so intensely disliked for 80% of the book, grew by leagues as she began to accept herself and realizes the true extent of her power.

Regrettably, the strong conclusion wasn’t enough to make this book more than a forgettable feminist read.

Recommended for: Readers who don’t mind tropes and slower character growth.

Trigger warnings: Graphic sexual assault, graphic murder, talk of self-harm, abuse, animal cruelty.

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with all the love,

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15 thoughts on ““Heart of Thorns” by Bree Barton | Witchcraft + Women!

  1. Great review for this book Hannah (also your comments next to some of the quotes you featured in this review really made me laugh!) 😀
    I was drawn in a little by the cover and blurb for this book when I first saw it but since then all the mixed reviews I’ve seen haven’t been enough to get me to pick it up. I get the whole ‘been there read that’ thing and when it comes to fantasy books I’m looking for more unique stories now (also just from what you said about the main character as sounds like the kind of MC I’ve read too many times before (I’ve already forgotten her name from your review)).
    At least the ending was good, do you think you’ll pick up the second book, or give it a miss?
    Again great review but I’m sorry this one wasn’t a good read for you (except the ending). 🙂 ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ahh thank you so much for your lovely comment, this is so sweet! 💕And yikes some of those quotes really made me raise my eyebrows, HAHA. (Some of them are pretty out-of-context, but I still don’t really understand the overall message of the book? Something about following your heart/emotions rather than your head? Honestly, idk at this point xD)

      Yes, the cover is so so gorgeous! And the premise had so much potential. I mean, magical women who can kill with their bare hands? ALL THE HEART EYES. Unfortunately, predictability is generally one of the biggest “nos” for me in fantasy, and I’m also super tired of seeing generic female protagonists. (And HA, I don’t blame you for forgetting her name!)

      Hmm I’ll probably still pick up the second book eventually to see how the author ties everything up, but I won’t be in too much of a rush. The ending thankfully made me curious to see what happens next. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s all right, and I think even if the quotes were in context sometimes that can’t improve them. If even after reading it you don’t know the overall message of the book that’s a pretty epic fail in my mind!
        Yeah a concept can be amazing but without the story to back it up what is there? Predictability is one thing that could easily kill the YA fantasy genre for me. I get bored reading the same things over and over again. 🙂 Well hopefully the second book will be better. If the ending to this one was promising you can certainly hope right? 🙂 ❤️

        Liked by 1 person

      • Totally! I think the biggest thing was, I personally couldn’t relate to the overall message I took away from the book so the significance of everything just immediately diminished. Which sucks, because I know the author worked super hard on it! )’: And again, everyone probably has different interpretations. Fingers crossed that I end up loving the sequel ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I get what you mean but when it comes to books there are overall messages I can’t relate to but the story still has an impact on me. I think for a book to be successful you shouldn’t need to be able identify with it to enjoy it you know? 🙂


  2. I loooove how in depth this review is, and that you treated the plot and the characters separately! Such a shame that it was meh, because the cover and synopsis are AWESOME 😥 It sounds all dark and morally ambiguous…but apparently…no. And seriously WHAT is with that dialogue you quoted. It just…what. Especially the one about minds – sounds like fake wisdom that’s just a jumble of pointless words. Even the description you said you liked seemed way too purple to me! 😆

    HOORAY for fluffy bisexual princes. But yes, it does sound a little bit bland. Honestly, overall this review makes me want to read it more to see if I dislike it as much as you did! 😅

    Liked by 1 person

    • *blushes* thank you so much!! ❤ I had so much to say that I just had to put them in separate sections oops.

      I know, that cover + synopsis sends shivers right down your spine; it would seriously look gorgeous on any bookshelf. (I'm apparently a super shallow person so my eyes ALWAYS go straight to the book cover.)

      Tbh, some of the quotes probably make more sense within the context of the scene, but those few lines actually made me laugh out loud in surprise! And now that you mention it, there does seem to be lots and lots of purple prose…

      Soft bisexual princes ftw!! ❤ ❤ And if you ever decide to pick it up, lmk how it goes. I seriously hope you enjoy it more than I did :')

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You’re definitely not shallow for liking book covers it’s only natural! 😛 I’ll let you know how it goes if I read it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Okay so I don’t want to read this book after reading your review but this was literally the most well written review ever?! You have such a way with words, I really enjoyed reading all your thoughts, Hannah.☺️I’m not one for super slow character growth, though- I just get so impatient and if I don’t love the character from the start, it’s hard for me to stay interested.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Omg thank you, this is so flattering and made my day! I can say the same for all of your reviews <33 Saame, slower character growth isn't really thing unless I actually find the character interesting :') I tried my best to like the protagonist, Mia, but for some reason we just didn't click? :')

      Liked by 1 person

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