Margaret Rogerson seemed to come out of nowhere in 2017 with her debut novel, An Enchantment of Ravens, but wow, for such a small novel there was so much! I’ve always loved the stories of the Fae, and the complex workings of their rules and world. Rogerson took it a step further, bringing not only the trickster edge we’ve seen in the Holly Black novels, but giving it a spin of her own. If you haven’t checked out her debut novel, I definitely recommend it, though it isn’t required before reading Sorcery of Thorns, since they are separate stories entirely.
Sorcery of Thorns takes a step away from the world of the Fae that Rogerson introduced us to, and instead focuses on Sorcery and Demons, giving us a mix of Charmed and newer Sabrina vibes as we are introduced to Elisabeth, who is an apprentice in one of the five libraries of Austermeer, places not of just great knowledge, but magical grimoires that contain magic and personalities of their own. For as long as she has been raised at the library of Summershall, she has wanted to be a warden, following in the path of the person who raised her, the director. There have always been questions about the logic of having a child in the library, but the trouble and questions escalate when there is a mysterious break in at the library, releasing one of the dangerous grimoires, the only person up and awake being Elisabeth. Forced to go to the capitol, she must not only prove herself innocent in a world of men, but also save her country from an evil that has only just begun its work.
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5
I remember having loved An Enchantment of Ravens, but between the lack of a review (I have no idea why I didn’t) and just time, I forgot how much, and for what reasons beyond the concept of the Fae. Rogerson does a fantastic job bringing you into her world without dumping a ton of information on you at once, which I’ll be honest is a common sin of writers in the Fantasy/Sci-Fi genres. I call it a sin, but really, it’s one of the hardest things to avoid when you have this gigantic world and a limited time to go into it. It’s one of those things that you have to sit back and decide what to go into, and what can be ignored at least for the time being. I can understand and really sympathize when an author can be attached and not want to leave something out. Rogerson though pulls you in with the premise of Elisabeth’s occupation and limited world when we start out the book. This snapshot of her life as a grimoire is brought in, and the Director lets her assist gives us a great idea of who Elisabeth is, while also getting to understand the real stakes of this world’s libraries. I feel like if she had left out this opening scene it wouldn’t have been the same, and likely would have been told to us, which is a bit harder to go with as a reader.
As we mentioned, in this world the books Elisabeth works with are grimoires, not to be confused with regular books, these books can in some instances speak, spit, or try to kill you. I really enjoyed the concept of these books, and how each is given a personality. Rogerson gives the books even a ranking system, with Elisabeth allowed to handle the first two ranks, since those are basic grimoires, and the one in the opening scene being a higher ranked, I think 7. Even when we are talking about non-magical books Rogerson brings out the book lover in all of us, as she brings in the importance of books, as well as taking care of them. This is of course, coming from Elisabeth, who not only grew up among books, but also cares for them, but I feel like as a book community it’s hard not to nod your head at the things said about books in this novel.
Elisabeth, seems to be the one name I keep throwing out there, since she is the main character, but there are also two other characters of note; Nathaniel and Silas. Where Elisabeth is an apprentice hoping to one day be a warden, Nathaniel is a magister, a high up Sorcerer. When I started this book I was like so, not a problem, right? Well, apparently while Apprentices and Wardens protect magical objects, they don’t like/trust Sorcerers and their dabbling in the demonic arts, and magisters are high ranking, so Nathaniel is like enemy #1 to wardens. Elisabeth, though doesn’t think like that (cliche when I say it like that, but it wasn’t?), stemming from her growing up rather uniquely in terms of apprentices, she is more curious than untrusting. This creates an interesting meeting between the two, and even more intense second meeting as she’s pulled into the investigation for questioning. Silas, I’ll introduce in the way he was in the beginning of the book, so no spoilers hopefully. Silas is Nathaniel’s servant, but from the start, there is something definitely off with him, as he is forgettable, to the point of suspicion. Where Elisabeth does her best to escape, he finds her and she subsequently forgets what she had been doing, or what had happened in some cases. As we go further into the book, the reader and Elisabeth start to realize what is happening, and how it’s connected to Silas. I honestly really liked this trio, they all work well together, even when they are disagreeing, or pushing each other away. The only thing I found a bit off, was in Nathaniel, and that I got a huuuuge Will Herondale vibe from him. Maybe I’m looking too much into that, since we all know at this point he’s my fav character, but from the dead parents, demonic deal, and self deprecating humor he’s like Will 2.0 for me, which isn’t necessarily bad, just very strange for me. Anyone else get this vibe? I need input on this, since I just get more adamant as time goes by.
Feminism in a Past Setting
It’s hard to say sometimes when a fantasy novel takes place, since it isn’t in our world and doesn’t typically follow the same date tracking system. In YA, there is a definite trend in Feminism, with a lot of the protagonists being women, and the majority of that sample being sword waving, butt kicking, and unapologetic females. Unless you go into contemporary most of these characters follow that kind of setup, it isn’t bad, but its pretty common and it’s also not really playing with the problems of a past world, just our current messed up one. Rogerson though brought us more of a mix, presenting issues that were not only present, but major problems for women in the Victorian era. One of the big ones was in psychiatry, which we also know harmed many in the LGBT community as well, but for women, which is something that came up in this novel, could be not only accused of mental illness, but diagnosed, and sent away based on a man’s judgement with no way of defending themselves. Even given that illness wasn’t discussed openly back then, it’s an alarming concept to even think of, let alone know that it happened, and not just in some soap opera. Rogerson did a great job bringing this into the plot, and while we get the idea that much of what Elisabeth is bringing up sounds crazy, we also know that beyond her life, many don’t know what she does, so very dangerous. It isn’t presenting a character that is unbelivably kicking butt from the start, but introducing something that women had to overcome or deal with in the past. Regardless of where we sit on, and think of Feminism, there are issues that women overall had to overcome, and have seen the horrors of, to get to where we are now.
As I got to the end of this book, I was blown away at how fast I ended up reading this. I had a bit of slow start, but most of that had to do with transitioning from contemporary books back to Fantasy, so I wouldn’t count that honestly. I enjoyed the characters, the plot and its quick and frightening twists. This novel was more than twice the size of An Enchantment of Ravens, but I think it went by just as fast, if not faster. If you are worried about the change up of focus after reading her debut novel, don’t be, this was just as fun and addictive. I’m excited for the next book that’ll eventually come our way, though hopefully it won’t be another two year wait!