Book #69

The Thorns Remain by J.J.A. Harwood

1919. In a highland village forgotten by the world, harvest season is over and the young who remain after war and flu have ravaged the village will soon head south to make something of themselves.

Moira Jean and her friends head to the forest for a last night of laughter before parting ways. Moira Jean is being left behind. She had plans to leave once – but her lover died in France and with him, her future. The friends light a fire, sing and dance. But with every twirl about the flames, strange new dancers thread between them, music streaming from the trees.

The fae are here.

Suddenly Moira Jean finds herself all alone, her friends spirited away. The iron medal of her lost love, pinned to her dress, protected her from magic.

For the Fae feel forgotten too. Lead by the darkly handsome Lord of the Fae, they are out to make themselves known once more. Moira Jean must enter into a bargain with the Lord to save her friends – and fast, for the longer one spends with the Fae, the less like themselves they are upon return. If Moira Jean cannot save her friends before Beltine, they will be lost forever.

I read Hartwood’s The Shadow in the Glass last year, and I was interested to see where she’d go with her second novel. Although the debut was of a similar genre, and one I love - historical fiction mixed with a bit of the supernatural - here we are taken from Victorian London into the Scottish Highlands. Quite the journey.

The Thorns Remain focuses entirely on the Fae folk, and the stark consequences which can occur from a night of dancing with them. It’s a fascinating topic for me, ignited entirely by Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and a difficult one to tackle, so I was eager to see how Hartwood would handle it.

Moira Jean and her friends accidentally call on the Fae folk one evening, and unwittingly enter into a dance with them. As Moira Jean is the only one to escape, she must do everything in her power to return her friends to their own world, making bargains with the Fae, and carrying out their wishes. No thank you, wouldn’t be me, sorry friends but you’re there until the end of time.

Hartwood’s characters aren’t great here. Although the friends and their safe return are the focal point of the story, there isn’t a great deal of backstory on them, which diminishes our engagement on whether or not they return. One of my favourite characters, who provides Moira Jean with stories on local folklore to help her make sense of the mess she’s in, is also quite badly characterised and remains in the background. I’d have loved to have heard more from her and about her.

Speaking of folklore, this is very lightly grazed over also. I’m Scottish, so I do have a decent understanding of the different creatures who live amongst our lore; I was disappointed in the almost indifferent explanations I was given of them.

Despite these points, I really enjoyed Hartwood’s world building, and her depictions of a small Scottish village in the early 1900s. It was wonderful to see the work that goes into keeping a village running, the opinions of those in the ‘big hoose’ and the different types of relationships which run through the community.