I read ALL THE MURMURING BONES last year and absolutely loved it. It was a different kind of gothic horror than I was used to, so I was keen to read THE PATH OF THORNS, another gothic story set in the same universe. After a slow start, this story picked up to a satisfying and page-turning climax, full of gothic horror and dark fairytale magic.
Thanks to Titan Books for the eARC of this book. It has not affected my honest review.
About the book:
Alone in the world, Asher Todd travels to the remote estate of Morwood Grange to become governess to three small children. Her sole possessions comprise a sea chest and a large carpet bag she hangs onto for dear life. She finds a fine old home, its inhabitants proud of their lineage and impeccable reputation, and a small village nearby. It seems an untroubled existence, yet there are portraits missing from the walls, locked rooms, and names excised from the family tree inscribed in the bible. In short order, the children adore her, she becomes indispensible to their father Luther in his laboratory, and her potions are able to restore the sight of granddame Leonora. Soon Asher fits in as if she’s always been there, but there are creatures that stalk the woods at night, spectres haunt the halls, and Asher is not as much a stranger to the Morwoods as it might at first appear.
What did I think?
THE PATH OF THORNS had a bit of a slow start, and it’s possible that, if it had been my first book from A.G. Slatter, I might have DNF’d it. It took me several days to read the first 30% of the book, then I read the last 70% in one day – once it picked up, it really picked up. As a dark, witchy fairytale this was a fun read, full of atmospheric and gothic horror tropes reused in interesting ways. I liked how casually magical the book was, especially in the earlier pages as little hints are dropped about Asher’s hidden secrets. About a third of the way in, we discover what the synopsis means by ‘Asher is not as much a stranger as it might first appear’ and from then it’s both intense and increasingly magical in fascinating ways. I can’t talk too much about the magic without spoilers, but the witchcraft was fascinating to me, with each spell and potion feeling very authentic for the time period – you could convince me every single spell was a real spell, with an extra spark of magic.
As things got from bad to worse, I found myself racing through the book to find out what was happening, praying for a safe and happy ending for Asher and the children – the only characters that are easily loveable. I enjoyed the fairytales that were threaded into the book, through Asher’s readings we got to see more of the world and to see her understanding of the magic system in this universe. I felt like this book left me understanding more of the world than I did after reading ALL THE MURMURING BONES but neither felt bogged down with world building.
There’s a relationship between Asher and Eli that I liked, but I’d hesitate to call it a romance. It’s not a significant part of the plot, as Asher has far higher priorities, but I liked the way they came to lean on each other and how she turned to Eli for comfort. Ultimately, this story is about Asher and her ghosts – emotional and literal – and so she’s the focus. I also loved the complicated relationship between Asher and Luned. From hate to reluctant support, there was something deeper than friendship there and I really enjoyed seeing the female loyalty despite personal dislike. To me, the characters and their relationships were the highlight of this book, and it was my love for Asher that had me reading until past-midnight and fighting off sleep so I could find out what happened to her.
Asher’s motivations are tangled in familial trauma, promises and debts owed and a desperate need for approval. It made her feel real and complicated, and left me still loving Asher despite the moments where I hated the choices she was making. It’s this depth of character combined with the fairytale-prose and gothic horror that makes A.G. Slatter a guaranteed read for me, especially for books set in this Sourdough world. I know I’ll be reading any future releases I can get my hands on.
Release Date: 14th June 2022