Review —The Path of Thorns, by A. G. Slatter

Teresa Edgerton

Goblin Princess
Staff member
Nov 1, 2004
It’s not our history and it's not our world, and the worldbuilding is such that it’s hard to pin down an analogous period for the setting—say late(ish) 19th century? It’s a world of witches, werewolves, ghosts, and vampires (we never actually meet any vampires, but it's established that they exist, just over the border), a world of wicked, wicked spells. All that we learn of its history and literature comes by way of dark fairy tales, some of which sound familiar but always with some sort of a twist. The protagonist, Asher, finds herself in her own gothic fairy tale, having taken a post as governess to the Morwood family, in order to gain the revenge she had promised to her dying mother.

As the story develops, the world becomes more and more fantastical, the spells more vividly described, and the plot more violent. But before long, Asher grows fond of her three young charges. The revenge she plans may well do them great harm. She pities their mother, and the abuse Jessamine suffers at the hands of an unfaithful husband. She begins to wonder how far she will (or ought to) go to fulfill a promise she should never have made in the first place. The answer to that question comes too late.

“The path of thorns” refers, metaphorically, to the path women must follow barefoot in a harsh world where all the rules are made by men: every step a wound. Yet women in this story often suffer just as cruelly at the hands of other women. It seems that to survive and gain the sort of independence handed without question to men, females in this brutal world must grow ruthless and manipulative. Asher herself, though not without conscience or compassion, commits, or is accessory to, some shocking acts. Yet men of the ruling class that we meet in this story, for all their power and will to do harm, are a pretty pathetic bunch.

The plot is constructed to slowly reveal the secrets of Asher’s past. Many readers will no doubt find something profound in this dark portrait of human nature. But, to me, any message it is meant to contain is complicated, and in the end ambiguous.