Juniper and Thorn

Juniper and Thorn by Ava Reid is a horror retelling of the Juniper Tree myth.

All quotes are from an advanced reader copy, and may or may not reflect the published edition.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

From Goodreads:

A gruesome curse. A city in upheaval. A monster with unquenchable appetites.
Marlinchen and her two sisters live with their wizard father in a city shifting from magic to industry. As Oblya’s last true witches, she and her sisters are little more than a tourist trap as they treat their clients with archaic remedies and beguile them with nostalgic charm. Marlinchen spends her days divining secrets in exchange for rubles and trying to placate her tyrannical, xenophobic father, who keeps his daughters sequestered from the outside world. But at night, Marlinchen and her sisters sneak out to enjoy the city’s amenities and revel in its thrills, particularly the recently established ballet theater, where Marlinchen meets a dancer who quickly captures her heart.
As Marlinchen’s late-night trysts grow more fervent and frequent, so does the threat of her father’s rage and magic. And while Oblya flourishes with culture and bustles with enterprise, a monster lurks in its midst, borne of intolerance and resentment and suffused with old-world power. Caught between history and progress and blood and desire, Marlinchen must draw upon her own magic to keep her city safe and find her place within it.

People want to ruin things that are clean and new. It’s no fun stamping through old dirty snow.

A few things to note before I get into this review: The trigger warnings are only presented as a comment from the author on Goodreads. This was buried behind several other comments due to the way Goodreads is formatted. Generally, I don’t fuss too much about trigger warnings, but this book heavily needs one at the beginning of the book, and I hope the publisher and author consider adding it.

Our names were the best spell that Papa had ever cast, better than rabbit’s feet or burning sage. They were a veil of protection, a caul that never came off. I imagined my father murmuring a prayer for each of his daughters as he pulled us from between our mother’s legs.

DNF’d this book at 60%, despite telling myself I would try to get to 75% at the bare minimum before doing so. However, I found myself wanting to do literally anything else before picking this back up to continue reading, which was when I realized it was time to put it down. I do feel I read enough of the book to give an honest review, though.

You should know, of course, that there are only two kinds of mothers in stories. And if you are a mother, you are either wicked or you are dead.

This book heavily focuses on morbidity to hide that not much happens (again, at least for 60%). Could I tell you what the plot was? What the main character wants and this is what’s preventing it and this is the plan? Maybe, but only in the absolute vaguest of terms. I adore Ava Reid’s prose, but in this instance, it tended to make what was happening simply confusing. The constant traumatizing events and overt sexualization of everything made me feel numb to everything that happened. I went from the kind of horrified that I expect with dark books, to emotionally detached and completely not caring. There was no balance, no reprieve from these moments. It wasn’t helped by our narrator being not enjoyable and trying to make excuses for this due to her trauma, but coming up short over and over again.

“You’re so inscrutable, Marlinchen. I think you like bewitching me.”

I enjoy horror, and I enjoy body horror especially. This book isn’t marketed as a horror, despite it being full of gore, but even in horror, I need it to make sense. Unfortunately, this book missed the mark both as a dark fairytale, and as a “maybe this is horror that they marketed incorrectly?” story.
Thank you to Netgalley and Harper Voyager for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.