Book Review : Thornbound

Book Review : ThornboundThornbound by Stephanie Burgis
Published by Five Fathoms Press on February 22nd 2019
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Fantasy
Pages: 204
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Cassandra Harwood scandalized her nation when she became the first woman magician in Angland. Now, she's ready to teach a whole new generation of bright young women at her radical new school, the Thornfell College of Magic...Until a sinister fey altar is discovered in the school library, the ruling Boudiccate sends a delegation to shut down Thornfell, and Cassandra's own husband is torn away from her.As malevolent vines slither in from the forest and ruthless politicians scheme against her, Cassandra must fight the greatest battle of her life to save her love, her school, and the future of the young women of Angland."Stephanie Burgis is a fresh new voice and I can't wait to see what she does next." - Ilona Andrews"A magical read, in every sense of the word." - Tansy Rayner Roberts, author of The Creature Court trilogy

Thornbound is the follow up to delightful and charming Snowspelled. Both novels follow main character Cassandra Wrexham, née Harwood, as she struggles to find a place in a regency era society filled with magic. In the first novel, we learn Cassandra is no longer with her own magic. Over the course of the book, she finds a new goal for herself, to teach other young women magic, even though it’s frowned upon in polite society and she cannot cast any magic of her own anymore.


In Snowspelled I really loved Cassandra for her cleverness and strength of character in choosing to live without her magic, even when a possibility to get it back presented itself. I also adored that she decided to dedicate herself to helping magical young women come into their own. I was really anticipating Thornbound to see how the actual founding of this new school of hers went and to learn more about the magic system in this regency era world. Unfortunately, I found the reality of Thornbound and her new school a bit underwhelming.


“It was exhausting, infuriating, and an irony beyond compare for the headmistress of Angland’s first women’s college of magic to be the only magician in the nation who couldn’t cast a simple spell to protect her sleep. I had lost my own magic over nine months ago, though…”


I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t Cassandra scrambling all over the place in pursuit of dangerous fey and refusing to tell her students to be on guard or to ask anyone for help. This is all while women politicians watch her every move in the hopes of shutting down her school. Plus, there was actually very little teaching in this novella about a woman starting her own magical school, but when there was, it was obvious that this was Cassandra’s true calling and passion. Sadly, it got a bit lost in the face of her stubbornness to rely on people who could help her to be successful. Her frustrating behavior certainly made Cassandra seem both less likable and less capable than in the first novel.


“Today my groundbreaking school of magic for women—the brilliant, nation-shaking project that I desperately hoped to make my great life’s work—was finally due to open its doors, after months of vicious newspaper attacks and political obstruction.”


I was very interested in how the magic system works in this world, but sadly, Thornbound offers very few glimpses of it. It was strange to me that Juliana, the star student of the new school, was able to simply learn magic simply through magical texts. This left me wondering why these young women even needed a teacher. Though Thornbound states that it’s dangerous to do a spell beyond one’s level, Cassandra has a student read from a third year spell book to demonstrate the power of will and magic with absolutely no consequences for reasons I don’t really understand beyond, “it’s magic.” So don’t expect detailed lessons of magic or explanations of magical theory or anything when reading Thornbound, as it mostly just does the bare minimum of explaining it.


I was also very disappointed by how basic the villains of this novel were—a spurned and violent fey who has grown to hate Cassandra’s family and two scheming ex-friends of the family who want to see Cassandra’s school fail. What little development these characters have is thrown out to readers offhandedly at practically the very end of the novel, in time to wrap the novel up neatly. What little obstacles these villains presented were dealt with very easily.


“Mrs. Wrexham,” said Luton, “I don’t know if you’re aware, but you are making the most unnerving noise in your throat right now. I find it deeply irritating.”

“I was just…anticipating my next conversation with my husband.”


By far my favorite part of the novel was anything involving Cassandra’s dashing husband, Wrexham. He’s patient, loving, supportive, and charmingly funny. Plus, he’s a feminist, as he always supports his wife’s scandalous career as a magic user or teacher of magic. Their relationship feels effortlessly authentic and I would love to read more about these two. Plus, the same contagious humor as the rest of the series is present in Thornbound, often making me giggle or snort when reading.


Though Thornbound is a fun read, I couldn’t help but to wish it had taken its magical content a bit more seriously and provided some more substance to its characters, many of whom seemed to be present just to fulfill a role in the story. In my eyes, that is the main difference between authors Stephanie Burgiss and Charlie N. Holmberg, the latter who manages to blend romance, fantasy and magic, as well as excellent magic and world building into her novels. But if you’re looking for a very light and fun read during the regency era, with touches of magic and romance, Thornbound is the book for you.

Book Review : Thornbound - Blogging with Dragons

Posted December 28, 2021 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Romance


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