The Thorn and the Blossom is, first off, a beautiful book. It comes with a slipcase decorated in a William Morris style illustration. The book itself, an accordion book, can be opened from either side and contains four illustrations (I believe done on scratchboard) by Scott McKowen. Theodora Goss has made the most of the format by creating a romantic tale told from the perspectives of two separate characters: Evelyn & Brendan. Each cover carries one of the lovers’ initials which corresponds with the text you’re about to read: B for Brendan and E for Evelyn. It’s all very nicely done.
(Warning! Skip this paragraph if you want to avoid spoilers!) Evelyn & Brendan first meet when Evelyn visits Cornwall on holiday. They have a whirlwind romance, and then separate under tense circumstances. Years later they find each other again. Intertwined with their story is a variation of the old Arthurian legend of Gawain & the Green Knight. The implication being that these two characters are reincarnations of the lovers from the old tale, cursed to be apart for 1000 years. Theodora Goss touches briefly on several of the directions she could have taken this story – but never really follows through on any of them. There’s the obvious fantasy path. Or my personal favorite: whether Evelyn’s visions (which she’s been having since she was a small child) are memories of her past life or hallucinations requiring medication. The Thorn and the Blossom is a short book, and both character’s stories combined clock in at under 100 pages. So Goss doesn’t have much space to elaborate or develop these ideas. And therein lies the rub.
Because of the parameters the format forces on the author (Goss was specifically asked to write an accordion book, rather than an existing story being adapted), The Thorn and The Blossom feels oddly incomplete. As if we’ve been given the armature on which the author intended to build her plot. Goss implies that this was her intention – to leave blanks for the reader to fill in and create an even greater interactive experience. While I admire the intent, in execution the plot just felt like it was full of holes.
Despite this, the story is unusual and Goss still manages to take it in unexpected directions. In addition to the psychological implications, I particularly enjoyed how the ending resolves itself only after you’ve read both Brendan’s and Evelyn’s parts. And as a package it’s wonderful. Like everything Quirk does The Thorn and The Blossom is innovative and provocative in its possibilities. I only wish they’d given themselves, and Theodora Goss, a little more space in which to explore those possibilities.
The Thorn and The Blossom is available for pre-order, release date January 17, 2012.
Publisher: Quirk Books, Philadelphia (2012)
ISBN: 978 1 59474 551 5