Trigger warning for references to interpersonal violence.
I’m not sure if this is true of nannies in real life, but governesses in fiction always seem to end up with more duties than were on the original job description. The employers might say that the job entails nothing more than taking care of the children and tutoring them, but the description always seems to expand to keeping the previous wife from murdering the man of the house (Jane Eyre), preventing the young son from turning into a psychopath (Agnes Grey), or magically healing the family (Mary Poppins et al.). The protagonist of A.G. Slatter’s thrilling novel, The Path of Thorns, is no different from her fictional peers in this respect; her list of duties never stops expanding. What makes her different is that she seems to have all of these duties: tutoring, minding the kids, preventing murders, healing families, mitigating the actions of a psychopath—plus she also has to contend with ghosts, a handsome werewolf, and a ghastly scheme to hold on to wealth and power on top of all that.
Asher Todd certainly has a lot on her plate. Thankfully, she’s one of the highly capable protagonists that I love to see in fantasy novels. Instead of swooning or looking to someone else to be the hero, Asher starts righting wrongs almost from the moment she sets foot in Morwood Grange. There is something very wrong at the Grange. Well, to be honest, there are a lot of things wrong at the Grange. The man of the house, Luther Morwood, is a monster. His wife is a shadow of herself after years of abuse. She wants to protect her children but isn’t able to stand up to her husband. Luther’s blind mother might be able to rein in her son but, when Asher whips up a potion to cure her cataracts, turns out to be as much of a villain as her son. Meanwhile, it seems like there’s someone running around poisoning people, so there’s one more thing for Asher to attend to. Plus, Asher’s being haunted by her mother who, before she died, Asher made impossible promises to.
There’s a lot of plot in The Path of Thorns, making for a highly entertaining read, with plenty of twists to keep you on your toes. These twists revolve around all of Asher’s obligations. Although she might strike one as a reserved character, Asher is the sort of person to jump in with an offer of help without stopping to ask questions. Ordinarily, Asher is just the sort of Samaritans we need more of (in fiction and in real life). The problem is that unscrupulous characters use that sense of duty to wheedle promises out of her that, if fulfilled, would cause even more harm. Asher is frequently torn between her promises and other characters she wants to protect. Watching her find a way to thread that needle was utterly engrossing.
The Path of Thorns is full of allusions to other stories and fairy tales that we might know, like Little Red Riding Hood and Frankenstein and Jane Eyre and others. I’ve noticed that Slatter is particularly good at taking characters and motifs from other stories and spinning them into wholly original and engaging stories (see my review for All the Murmuring Bones). Slatter is so good at this—and character development and plot twists and pacing—that she’s near the top of my “I must get my hands on a copy forthwith” list. I hope she similarly rises to the tops of your “gotta have it” lists.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.