It was around 60% that I just had to stop reading Garden of Thorns. What I had hoped would be a darker, edgier, and perhaps deeper YA fantasy ended up being a wooden, unbelievable sop-fest of a romance disguised as fantasy. The main characters were overidealized, their situations and personalities simplistic, and the plot so full of gaping holes in logic that one could drive a truck through it (or a large cart, in this case). Honestly, it all felt very silly.
Story: Rose has been a performer in a traveling circus called ‘The Garden” for seven years. In reality, she is a slave kept in a cage with other girls. The performers are kept in line by bonding them with a partner who is then the ‘sacrifice’ if the girls do not perform or behave. Rose’s best friend is Fern and Fern bears the scars of taking Rose’s punishments. But Rose is not an ordinary girl and when Fern is found out to be a rebel and spy, her death will be the impetus for Rose to finally escape. Unfortunately, she chooses the wrong person in the crowd and ends up fleeing with the head of the rebellion – the young heir to the throne, Rayce. Romance ensues.
So, yes, this is a YA romance first – with all the cliches intact – with fantasy thrown in. Instaluv, speshul snowflake, sniffing of the guy all the time, interrupted confessions, rudeness that in real life would have ensured the girl was killed, a love interest who is so perfect that likely little birds comb his hair in the morning, heavy handed deus ex machina situations to make the heroine look good, create a romantic scene, or the hero look angelic, etc. etc. abound. Let’s not forget that we have the typical girl cat fights and our speshul snowflake will be so full of admirable mettle that she’ll turn enemy into friend! There wasn’t an original word in the entire book.
Perhaps most problematic for me wwere the glaring plot and logic holes. It all felt wrong – that these aren’t the way people would behave in the situations we are told they are in. Our feckless heroine has no emotional scarring that I can tell, the prince completely trusts her, shows her all his secret rebel spies/contacts, even takes her to his stronghold – because yeah, that would be smart. They have magical weapons that are a mystery to everyone – even though there is only one place you can get the magic rocks to power them AND someone has not only built the weapons but the knowledge to make the ‘magical tattoos’ that power them. And hey, of course our heroine has a secret connection to the prince AND the magic. But she has to keep all her speshulness a secret – because otherwise the plot would have been over by the first chapter. There are many, many, more plot and logic holes. I just couldn’t turn off my brain enough to really ignore the problems.
The characters were wooden, overidealized, talked like modern teenagers (Heroine, “Excuse me! I can hear you whispering about me!”). The prince is handsome, worries about his people and takes big responsibility for them over his own well-being, and even bakes bread to our heroine while worrying about someone he sent on a mission. At one point, I kind of felt that this was the author daydreaming of the boy she hoped her daughter would bring home one day. There were no nuances, depth, or verisimilitude in any of the characters.
It’s a shame I could only get through 60%. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything by the end since the ‘surprises’ and secret backgrounds were very well telegraphed. I think those who are undemanding readers will enjoy this as a sweet little romantic Summer read. As for me, I’ve read enough books that I expect much more. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.