So I just finished reading Thorn Jack by Katherine Harbour, and I can’t believe I haven’t come across this story sooner. It’s a modern day retelling of Tam Lin that still manages to keep the reader guessing about what’s going to happen next. Part fairytale and part ghost story, it’s an amazing mixture of myth and folklore.
Following the death of her sister, Lily Rose, Serafina “Finn” Sullivan moves with her father to Fair Hollow, New York, where she discovers that the eccentric town harbors some dark secrets. At the center of those secrets is the mysterious Fata family who are much more than they appear. When Finn meets Jack Fata one night at a party she’s led down a dangerous path that could cost her everything.
The writing is absolutely superb. This story manages to be gruesome without being overly gory. That’s not to say there’s no blood, but her descriptions are poetic and she gives just enough detail that your imagination can fill in the rest. There are some particularly creepy sequences that made me shiver from the sensory descriptions Harbour gives.
The danger surrounding everyone feels real as they dive deeper and deeper into the Fata’s world. The characters’ desperation feels honest as they struggle with trying to save each other and live their ordinary lives. Finn is a believable skeptic determined to figure out a logical explanation for the fantastical things happening around her, and her friends Christie and Sylvie, complement her really well. Christie is the voice of reason who cautions against delving deeper, and Sylvie is the enabler who supplies more leads for Finn to follow. Jack is an appropriately enigmatic character who can be lethal and detached one moment and desperately vulnerable the next.
The only real complaint I had about the story was that the characters felt like high schoolers rather than college students. Finn is supposed to be a college freshman, but the interactions between the teachers and students feels much more like it belongs in a high school. There’s even a scene where they go on a field trip and one of the students makes disrespectful remarks and gets scolded by the teacher that just didn’t convince me they were supposed to be adults. This doesn’t really matter to the story, but every time the characters went to school it just took me out of things. Tied to that was the overemphasis on what everyone was wearing. I’m sure the costumes and outfits were meant to set the scene that these people lived in an eccentric town, but I caught myself wondering how everyone had a closet-full of Victorian and Renaissance-style clothes to wear to all those themed parties.
Overall, I absolutely loved this story and can’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the series, Briar Queen. If you’re a fan of Tam Lin, or if you enjoyed Tithe by Holly Black, then you will probably enjoy this story as well.