REVIEW: Bonded by Thorns by Elizabeth Helen

Last Updated on June 11, 2024

Bonded by Thorns is the debut fantasy romance novel by sister writing duo, Elizabeth Helen. Directly inspired by Beauty and the Beast, this retelling blends traditional fairy tale with a spicy reverse harem/why choose love story, and the main character, Rosalina, has four, yes four*, hot princes in the mix (*number of princes perhaps subject to change, I hope). Though the story leans heavily on the source material to start, it increasingly develops its own individual, and frankly far more interesting threads, becoming steadily darker in aspect and exploring what it really means to be cursed.

Cover of Bonded by ThornsThe story follows Rosalina O’Connell, a bookworm trapped in small town Orca Cove while her somewhat eccentric father explores the world in his wild search for the lands of the fae. Convinced his wife was taken there against her will, his crazed determination leaves Rosalina caged at home, wreathed in poverty and loneliness. When a local discovers her father’s bloodied jacket in the depths of the woods, a desperate hunt for him leads her into a much deadlier forest, one infested with thorns and goblins, and in one moment everything changes, her life will never be the same again…

This is a novel that dares to be slow, the authors feeding us information alongside Rosalina, letting the tension build as we wait impatiently for the characters to make the connections we’re already certain we know (and want). It leaves us restless, feeling trapped, just like Rosalina, who has gone from one cage to another. Her character development in the novel is, at times, frustrating. Isolated, mocked, and in what is very clearly an abusive ‘relationship’, it’s no wonder that Rosalina flourishes in the fae lands, a place where nothing is as it seems and she’s free of the weight of human expectations – and of her father’s obsession. Yet she also makes some stunningly poor decisions, often for the sake of the plot, and while the fun of yelling at the pages of a book never dies, it’s not enough to excuse the inconsistency between her as brilliant one moment and outright stupid the next. No matter, I like her anyway – and it’s not just jealousy of her living situation. Her snark can be genuinely funny and she reads like one of us, which only helps with the wish fulfilment aspect of the novel.

And all this is before we get into the spicy stuff. The reader will have to manage with little more than a bit of touching and some hot MM material here, but with the number of people involved, this reader is more than a little intrigued about the dynamics of future action. I already have favourites (*cough* Prince of Thorns) and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out. In terms of the worldbuilding, we only get to see tiny snippets here in Bonded by Thorns, but each moment leaves no doubt that the authors have created a comprehensive and fully realised wider world – one that we will travel in the next books.

Grimdark fans will be pleased by Elizabeth Helen’s exploration of the darker aspects of the fairy tale, pulling out threads that are much more Grimms than Disney. Having already read the first three books in the series, I know that these elements become more significant as the story progresses and readers should not be put off by the seeming simplicity or lightness of this opening novel. On the surface, this is a straight retelling of the children’s classic and framing Rosalina as a funny and sometimes rather clueless character can distract from the grimmer aspects of the story, like fairy lights on a dying Christmas tree, it’s easy to see nothing more than the sparkle. Yet fundamentally, this is a story which asks us what is really means to be good, or evil, and it does it through all the jolly things us Grimdark readers enjoy: political machinations, backstabbing, broken friendships, sex, violence, and lies.

Bonded by Thorns was a TikTok sensation and one that well deserves its popularity. Now it’s being traditionally published by Magpie in a beautiful hardback version, complete with colour endpaper maps in the front and back and chapter illustrations. Best of all, Bonded by Thorns and the two following books, Woven in Gold and Forged in Malice, will all be published on the same day (18th July) in their own stunning editions. Then you only need to wait until 10th September for Book 4, Broken by Daylight. Not only is this a series that is going to hook your imagination and stir your heart, it’s also going to look incredible on your bookshelf. This is an unmissable series and my sincere thanks to Magpie for the review copy.

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Emma Davis

Emma Davis

Emma is back to reviewing after a while. She used to write for Fantasy Book Review and when she’s not reading she’s probably teaching secondary school children English or running or doing even more reading with her two cats snoozing beside her. Find her on socials here: @Emma__D7

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