Book reviews / Fantasy

Book review: Bitterthorn

Well, look at that. I read another book and it didn’t take me two months! It did help that this book was just effortlessly easy to read.

Bitterthorn is the latest novel by Kat Dunn. It’s completely different than her Battalion des Morts series, but with some similar themes – found family, high-stakes gambles, and difficult decisions. The story is simple enough, every 50 years or so, the Witch descends upon the town of Blumwald to take a companion. Mina, the lonely daughter of the duke, impulsively volunteers after years of being forgotten in her own home.

There is so much to love about this novel. As mentioned, it’s such an easy read. The words just flow off the page and into your brain, with almost no effort required. The atmosphere of Blumwald and the Witch’s castle are so well described, it feels almost cinematic. I also just really love the time and place, nineteenth century Germany. A touch of modernity in a fairy tale setting.

Even more so than the how real the settings felt, the tapestry of loneliness that is woven throughout the novel was stunning. You could understand why Mina would decide to give up her life and cast her future in unknowable uncertainty. You could understand the hostility and volatile emotions of the Witch. The finale and resolution feel realistic and understandable from where these two characters came from. It was beautiful and heart wrenching.

I loved how fairy tale tropes were used in the story, but changed to fit a new story. It was always a hint of familiar, but seen through an age where fairy tales were almost a thing of the past. I think from that viewpoint, you know some of the things that Mina clearly can’t grasp. But it was still enjoyable to follow her through the seasons in the castle, slowly uncovering the secrets that the Witch holds. So the ultimate revelation of what the central, fateful decision that the Witch had to make wasn’t surprising, but it didn’t make it any less devastating.

It was such a wonderful read. Familiar, but different enough to keep you captivated.

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