Lea Doue’s The Firethorn Crown is a novel I’ve been wanting to read since I first saw the cover and heard that the premise was loosely based on the fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. That is one of my all-time favorite fairy tales, and one of the less-well-known ones, so it is always fun to find a retelling of it. However, I had not quite gotten around to reading it… and when the Fellowship of Fantasy Book Club picked it as their February read, that was exactly the motivation I’d been needing. I bought a copy late in the month and managed to devour it in two or three sittings – as I actually had an entire blissful afternoon to spend curled up with a good book one day, not something that happens very often around here!
Everything about this story was delightful and enchanting. The twelve sisters are well-written and developed. Such a large cast in a short story can be a bit difficult and cumbersome for an author to handle well, but Doue does a fantastic job distinguishing each sister from the crowd. Some of them were focused on more than others, but none of them felt like flat “additions” to the story simply because the tale called for 12 sisters. And while the classic fairy tale was well-adhered to (with many references to other fairy tales woven in, with tantalizing hints that those will be expounded upon later in the series) there were enough things to make the story unique that it felt fresh and new.
The world also felt very well thought out, and I am quite looking forward to entering this fantastical realm once more in the sequel and subsequent stories that are promised to come. The villains were also done quite well.
Even the frustrating moments: like when the main character – Princess Lily, the eldest of the 12 princesses – realizes that she must spend her days mute and unable to speak unless she wishes to doom herself and her sisters to a fate worse than death, were handled so cleverly and interwoven with the dialogue from the other characters that I did not feel at all like tearing my hair out or shouting at her. I also liked the twists and turns that the story took as she had to navigate the intricacies of the curse, court-life, and a sudden and unexpected deadline by which her parents expected her to name a suitor she would accept.
Lily’s most zealous suitor is a man who is truly shudder-worthy, and while it is necessary for him to be as repulsive as he is in order to understand why Lily runs away from him and hides in a place she probably wouldn’t have ventured had she been thinking clearly, he truly made my skin crawl. Because of him, I would recommend this read for ages 13 and up. I did appreciate the characters being somewhat horrified by the cut of some of the dresses they are forced to wear during the story, and I enjoyed the author making a big deal out of their modesty… and having it be a good thing.
Overall, the story was beautifully written and extremely fun to read. I was well-satisfied with the end, and felt like it wrapped up the main story well, while still leaving enough things open in the lives of the secondary characters for plenty of stories yet to be written in this world.
If you love fairy tale retellings and fantasy, you will enjoy this book.
Five Dragon Eggs