The Book of Thorns

Written by Hester Fox
Review by Karen Bordonaro

Thorns and roses, anger and love. Flowers have long been associated with human emotions, and this novel very adroitly takes these connections and folds them into a captivating story. During the time of the Napoleonic Wars, two exceptional women find themselves in difficult predicaments. One, raised in wealth and working as a garden column writer/artist, has escaped a controlling uncle in Sussex, England, and fled to France. The other, a speech-impaired orphan, labors as a servant in houses of the wealthy in Brussels, Belgium. Both women have hidden knowledge through flowers that is only partially visible to others. One can make flowers bloom with her thoughts that seem to harness the power of love, and the other can direct emotions of anger to take the form of thorns on roses that can stop brutality from escalating. Both women can hear the voices of flowers speaking to them.

Each woman’s human voice is heard in alternating chapters as she struggles to find herself, her family, her fate. The name of a particular flower and what it represents is featured in each chapter as a clue as to which emotion the chapter will invoke through the ongoing actions that occur in the women’s lives. These actions cause their individual stories to intersect each other’s through wartime circumstances, people who appear in both of their worlds, and their kinship through the ethereal power of flowers.

This novel features fascinating yet believable characters, a well-paced plot, and a setting that lends itself to a deeper understanding of the significance of flowers in the early 19th century. The combination of these elements creates a work that is both memorable and unique. Highly recommended for all fans of floriography in historical fiction.