Book Cover
Title Alphabet of Thorn
Series ---
Author Patricia A. McKillip
Cover Art Kinuko Y. Craft
Publisher Ace Books - 2004
First Printing Ace Books - 2004
Category Fantasy
Warnings None


Main Characters


Nepenth, Bourne, Tessera, Axis, Kane

Main Elements Wizards
Website ---




One of the most spectacular fantasists of our time, Patricia A. McKillip creates fairy tale worlds of wonder and magic. Now, she opens the page on a time and place where an orphan girl is haunted by thorns...a reluctant queen rules between sea and sky...and epics never end...

Deep inside a palace on the edge of the world, the orphan Nepenthe pores over books in the royal library, translating their languages and learning their secrets. Now sixteen, she knows little of the outside world - except for the documents that trades and travellers bring her to interpret.

Then, during the coronation of the new Queen of Raine, a young mage gives Nepenthe a book that has defied translation. Written in a language of thorns, it speaks to Nepenthe's soul - and becomes her secret obsession. And, as the words escape the brambles and reveal themselves, Nepenthe finds her destiny entwined with that of the young queen's. Sooner than she thinks, she will have to choose between the life she has led and the life she was born to lead...




I had heard that McKillip writes very lyrical books, like fairy tales. I didn't really get that from this one, my first. In fact I wasn't all that impressed with the prose. It isn't bad of course, just nothing magical or wonderous.

So I end up being of two minds of this book. I guess the bad part first, I didn't care at all for the main character Nepenthe. She was so cold and mosly emotionless. Now she's 16, and Bourne is almost certainly her first lover, but there is no build up to that, they just pop into bed and next morning Nepenthe is back at the book trying to decode it. The bedding part could have been skipped or saved for the end once she could focus on poor Bourne.

On the positive, this was quite the mystery to unravel. Between the events of the present time and place (the new Queen taking the throne and her kingdom threatening to fall apart), we also have the events Nepenthe is decoding, events that took place a long time ago in a place far away, centering upon the mysterious characters of Axis, the warrior king, and Kane, his sorceror. Now that was fascinating and as things start to make less and less sense, they eventually resolve themselves to a surprising climax. Though for what it's worth, it was a little too clean, a little too easy.

I also loved the parts that involved the magic school and the forest in which it is hidden. A bit like Harry Potter's Hogwarts...or maybe more like the Chrestomanci series, it's a school like none you've attended before. For one thing it floats, and the students are expected to keep it airborn. The magic in this book is quite beautiful in fact and I wouldn't mind studying there.

Lots of strong female characters showing up in unexpected places too.

So overall, not disappointed I read it, but was hoping for more. Will have to try one of her other books.




Posted: December 2016

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