The Path of Thorns (A.G. Slatter) – Book Review

The Path of Thorns returns readers to the world of Sourdough, A.G. Slatter’s shared fantasy universe filled with magic, monsters, and women proving their power in the face of adversity. Set in the same universe as last year’s All The Murmuring Bones, Titan Books’ latest fantasy offering is a tense and layered mystery that will keep you hooked right up to the amazing conclusion.

The Path of Thorns tells the story of Asher Todd, a young governess who has recently been hired to teach the children at Moorwood Grange, a large estate nestled in the countryside. Asher has impeccable credentials, and perfect letters of recommendations, and seems to be the perfect fit to look after the three young Moorwood children. However, her documents are fake, and Asher is hiding a dark secret. Having come to Moorwood Grange for her own reasons, she begins to carefully manipulate the family, healing the eyesight of the fierce matriarch , Leonora, winning over the children, and forging friendships with key members of the household and local village. But can Asher walk this dangerous path without being caught, and what is her end goal?

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People who like dark, Gothic tales are going to find a lot to enjoy with The Path of Thorns. This is a story that makes its home firmly in big family estates, dark haunted halls, spooky woodland, and hidden mysteries. The book feels like a Jane Eyre plot that’s accidentally had some pages from a horror story shuffled into it. We get the things we expect from a Regency era drama: a new member of a rich household staff figuring out their place in the internal power structure, family secrets and scandal, budding romance, and people trying to maintain appearances of respectability for the common folk. But as the story unfolds we begin to suspect that there’s something darker beneath the surface. There are portraits missing from the walls, names removed from the family tree, spectral figures walking the halls at night, and wolfish monsters prowling in the woods.

These elements are no surprise to those that have read Slatter’s work before, particularly those set within the Sourdough universe, where the ordinary and the monstrous meet at almost every turn. Whilst other books of Slatter’s, like All The Murmuring Bones, have more obvious fantastical elements, this book plays it quite subtle, and for the longest time you’re left wondering if there might not be anything supernatural at play, but things with a more mundane experience. But this is a fantasy Gothic story at its heart, and after a while those elements begin to become more and more interwoven into the narrative. It becomes a key part of the story and these characters, and you realise that Slatter is telling a story that feels at home amongst books by Bronte, but absolutely has its own sense of uniqueness.

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Asher Todd is the central character and narrator for the book, and is a character that readers quickly learn has a few secrets hidden away. We’re dropped into the narrative with her having arrived at Moorwood Grange, so we don’t know what lies she told to get there, or what’s driving her on to infiltrate this household. As the story progresses we get several clues, and whilst it is a mystery the book never treats the reveal as a big moment.

We’re seeing the story from Asher’s point of view, so when she addresses the reason for her being there it’s not new information for her, and as such it’s a very understated moment in the book. I really liked how Slatter handled the various mysteries in this way. She had Asher lead us through this world carefully, slowly getting us used to things, and the fantastical elements that were new to us were treated just as calmly as the mundane. It meant that the story never felt like it was relying on shocks or twists to keep you interested, and simply let the characters and their tales keep you hooked.

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And the book very much did keep me hooked. The tale that Slatter was telling was incredibly engaging, and I found myself reading on long after I should have put the book down to take a break, because I kept wanting to know what was coming next. Slatter was able to twist the narratives in directions that I wasn’t expecting, and asked some tough questions about how far you’d be willing to go to keep a promise, and what the right thing is. By the end of the book I struggled to know if there were any purely good people in this book, with so many of the characters having dark secrets and evil deeds in their past. It’s not a straight forward and easy read, and I loved that.

The Path of Thorns is a book that starts simple but introduces more and more complexity and depth as it goes on, expanding this small corner of Slatter’s universe in interesting ways. If you’re a returning reader I’m sure that you’re going to enjoy a lot of what’s on offer here, and if you’re new to Slatter and her work I suspect that you’ll come away from this wanting to read more. And you absolutely should. A wonderful read to get lost in on a dark and rainy night.

The Path of Thorns is out on 28th June from Titan Books.

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