#Review: Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip @SFGateway

Alphabet of Thorn - Patricia A. McKillip


Deep inside a palace on the edge of the world, the orphan Nepenthe pores over books in the royal library, translating their languages and learning their secrets. At sixteen, she knows little of the outside world. But when a young mage gives Nepenthe a book that has defied translation – a book written in a language of thorns – it speaks to Nepenthe’s soul, and becomes her secret obsession. As the words escape the brambles they reveal themselves – and begin to reveal Nepenthe’s destiny …


I bought and read this as it was the most recent pick in the Flights of Fantasy book club and I have been determined to stick with the reading for this, especially with books like this that weren’t even on my radar. Aside from a few chapters where I started it really late at night I read Alphabet of Thorn in one day but I did have my issues with it.

Nepenthe is a transcriptor within the Royal Library, she works in return for the care they have given her all her life since finding her abandoned as a baby, an orphan. When she collects a book from the nearby mage school she becomes deeply connected to both the mage who hands her the book, Bourne, and the book itself which seems to enchant her.

As time goes on we start to see a dual timeline story emerge telling us the story of the centuries old legends Axis and Kane, as we discover why the book is so enchanting to Nepenthe and nobody else, we find out more about the new Queen of the Twelve Crowns,  Tessera.

Throughout this book I felt the story was well developed, there could have been a little more world building to help with understanding of how the world was laid out and had grown but for the most part is was adequate. Characterisation was great and I felt connected to multiple characters as we moved around different character point of views in each chapter.

There weren’t any big battle scenes this wasn’t that kind of book, there weren’t even any little battle scenes. This was a quest and magic based fantasy about love and loyalty and how it can span time and space, very clearly placed in the high fantasy genre. The writing was beautiful and addictive and Nepenthe as a protagonist was pure and special yet she had no special powers or skills other than her ability to translate the written word.

What disappointed me and where I felt I missed out was at the end, there was a huge book long build up to the final scenes, and then in a page it was over. I felt quite let down that after such a huge build up what we receive is quite an anti-climax. I also felt the sub-plots relating to individual relationships were left unresolved and I felt disappointed that the closure you look for in a standalone novel wasn’t there with these.

Overall, this was a great book, it just didn’t quite give me what I look for in terms of closure.


This review was part of my Flights of Fantasy reading challenge and book club.

Book & Buy Links

TitleAlphabet of Thorn
Series: N/A
Author: Patricia A. McKillip
Genre: Fantasy | High Fantasy | Magic
Publisher: Gateway
Publication Date: 29 October 2015
Review Format: eBook
Other Formats: Paperback | Hardcover
Pages: 192
Buy: Amazon UK | Amazon US | Book Depository | SpeedyHen | Wordery


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