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Dark Waters book cover

Thornhedge is a twisted and magical novella brought to us by T Kingfisher, the author of the fantastical Nettle and Bone. And it brings us much of the same: the strict fairytale logic, the unconventional ‘heroes’, and the uncanny valley of a plot which the reader knows and also does not know.

We follow Toadling, a woman and not a woman, a toad and not a toad, who guards a fort long sheltered by a wall of thorns. And, just as you begin to recognise the story, it completely derails you with Toadling’s past and a childhood surrounded by flesh-eating water monsters, then once more with the appearance of a wimpy knight in the present – who shall probably be a reader favourite.

The characters are definitely a highlight, especially as the main protagonists are both awkward and introverted social outcasts, who have the narrative thrust upon them, rather than the other way around. There is also an interesting subversion of themes, which leaves the story feeling like a fairytale where the characters keep forgetting the script and start to ad-lib the lines. The sense of place is another particularly strong aspect, but is probably at its best during Toadling’s childhood section, in the murky lakes and bogs of the Fairie Realm.

It is a novella that progresses in two threads: the present at the thorn wall and Toadling’s past. Throughout the reader is given little hints, from the idea of a sleeper in the fort, to Toadling’s guilt in the present – which is certainly given more weight by the adjoining storyline.

Sadly, there are moments where one section becomes more interesting than the other or where one section moves faster than the other, which may lead to skim reading – though they mostly complement one another.

Amidst all of this, there are vaster areas for improvement, all of which come back to one common denominator. The sheer awkwardness of Toadling and her interactions with other characters slows the pace, changes the tone, and impacts the plot – in a way that left me demanding more from the story. It left me wondering, even though T Kingfisher’s point was to write about underdogs, if the narrative, pacing, and tone could have benefitted far more from forthright characters, rather than ones more inclined to become a toad and sit in the mud?

All in all, it begs the question: how far will fairytale narratives go to subvert our expectations and shock us? I cannot give the answer, but I can say that if you are in search of a quick read centred around Faeries, loveable characters, and unravelling mysteries, then Thornhedge might just be for you!

3 / 5


Thornhedge | By T Kingfisher | 128 pp. | Titan Books | Hardback £9.67


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