Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Review: SORCERY OF THORNS by Margaret Rogerson

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

I was super excited to read this book once I heard about it: sorcerers, magical libraries, grimoires that are alive and quite possibly dangerous, and the enemies-to-lovers trope. A fantasy book about books and set in a library is right up my alley.

Elisabeth has been raised in one of the Great Libraries. She has believed her whole life that sorcery is evil, and then one day she meets a magister, a sorcerer proclaimed to do great demonic magic, and he isn’t what she expected.

The descriptive imagery at the beginning made me feel like I was in an ancient stone library, smelling the old worn leather books, and that’s such a pleasant place to imagine myself. It was so atmospheric, at least while Elisabeth is actually in the library, and that was my favorite part of this book.
Bookcases soared upward toward a vaulted ceiling six stories above . . . When she breathed in, the sweetness of parchment and leather filled her lungs. Motes of dust hung suspended in the sunbeams, perfectly still, like flakes of gold leaf trapped in resin. 
The beginning started out amazing and the story seemed really promising, but I was a bit disappointed where the story went for a while after that. The whole bit with Elisabeth being stuck at Ashcroft’s manor and the reasons behind it just weren’t what I wanted from this story and that part dragged a little. I was expecting a more defined magic system and setting than we got. I still enjoyed the story but it wasn’t what I had expected it to be.

I was a little confused in the first hundred pages what the difference was between a magister and a sorcerer and what kind of magic was good and what kind was bad because none of that was clearly explained. Things seemed obvious to me that turned out to be wrong, and then I connected pieces that weren’t meant to be connected and it confused me.

Likewise, the rules of sorcery are very vague and not defined at all. The grimoires are alive and enchanted, presumably by sorcery, but those who look after the grimoires and the libraries abhor sorcery and say it is evil. What’s the difference between the magic of enchanted books and the magic of sorcery? Why is it viewed as evil? I would have loved some more explanation about the background and depth of the magic system in this book because it felt very one-dimensional and obfuscating at times.

Also, Ashcroft is the Chancellor of Magic, and the workers of the libraries, who supposedly abhor sorcery, still regard Ashcroft with respect even though he’s a sorcerer. That didn’t really make sense to me either.

I thought the characters were likable, although there was minimal character development, especially where Ashcroft was concerned. But I read for the enjoyment of the overall story so flat characters don’t really bother me too much, whereas I know it would be a big turn-off for some readers.

I absolutely love Nathaniel’s personality. His dry humor and witty comments had me smiling the whole time. However, I wanted him to be older. He’s a magister sorcerer at only eighteen, and he’s the head of his family at twelve? His age just felt like it played into the fact that this book is YA, where the protagonist is rarely older than eighteen. I pictured him the whole time as being around twenty-two, and I think that would have been a better fit for him. Elisabeth is seventeen and I don’t think that’s too big of an age gap; it would make the romance seem more unexpected, but when he’s literally only a year older than she is, that didn’t feel plausible for who Nathaniel is supposed to be.

I love a good slow-burn, hate-to-love relationship though. Even though Nathanial calls Elisabeth a menace and a terror, I always felt like it was in good spirits and he never actually meant it offensively. They’re never really enemies so this trope wasn’t played out as well as it could have been, but it was still fine nonetheless.

The last hundred pages were a struggle for me to get through, and I especially couldn’t wait for the final battle to be over because I was sadly not that interested in what was happening. Plus it kept feeling to me like the battle was done but then it just kept going. There’s a lot of action scenes in this book, but at some point, that becomes a detriment to the story. For example, I noticed a lot of telling instead of showing, especially for events that happened in the past. Like there would be a ton of action and then the chapter would end, and the next chapter would be a little while later and Elisabeth would explain to us how the battle ended when it could have just been shown to us in the previous chapter instead.

Despite Sorcery of Thorns being a good story that many will love, it sadly didn’t live up to my high expectations. I thought I would love it and it would be an instant new favorite; it started off strong at five stars, but then it slowly declined to four stars and then to three, and parts of it were a two for me. I liked the story but I was ultimately disappointed with the direction it went and that hindered my overall enjoyment. I think the library imagery is beautiful and that’s what I expected the whole book to be like, but it wasn’t. I didn’t expect a story about a girl getting captured, being shipped to a mental hospital, and then trying to convince the whole world that she isn’t crazy, that the bad guy is actually the bad guy, etc. but that’s what I got with this one. Somehow the cover’s synopsis failed to communicate the actual plot to me, which turned out to be not at all what I wanted to read. I picked this book up for the magical libraries and the grimoires, and while that’s an underlying tone of the story, it isn’t the actual story, and that really disappointed me. Hopefully I will someday be able to find the fantastical library story that I’m looking for because, unfortunately, this book wasn’t it for me.

Some SPOILERS that bothered me: 
So after Elisabeth slew the Book of Eyes, Warden Finch and Master Hargrove were arguing about how it was her fault that the grimoire has escaped and the Director was dead because no one else was down in the vault. But not two chapters prior, Magister Thorn came to the town and was escorted down to the vault by the Director herself. The magister who does sorcery, which is perceived as evil. And no one thinks to question if he was involved in letting the grimoire loose? That just didn’t add up to me, like he would be the first person I’d suspect.

I don’t like how sorcerers’ spells keep not working on Elisabeth, like that makes it feel like the author is setting her up as the chosen one. This spell was supposed to kill everyone but somehow she survived; this was supposed to mind control her, but somehow she was immune; this was supposed to wipe her memory, but somehow she still retained her memories. Like that makes everything feel so fake. I understand that we don’t want pain or misery or sadness to befall the protagonist but sometimes it’s necessary to make the story feel genuine.
I did like the reasoning behind Elisabeth’s immunity though, that she was the only person to have grown up in a library and be surrounded by the magic of grimoires from such a young age and it made her “a true child of the library”; I thought that was cute.

The very end felt like a cop-out, like when someone is dead, leave them dead. Silas died to save them, let him be a martyr; don’t bring him back to life. I don’t like that the narrative implied that he survived and would be coming back. I mean I love Silas, but stop pulling the punches.

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