On the Bookseller’s Bookshelf: The Thorn and the Blossom

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thorn and blossom book

The Thorn and the Blossom is a truly beautiful book. The vines and flowers on the cover perfectly set the scene for the story. Inside, pen-and-ink sketches give the reader just a hint of what the characters look like without spelling everything out. Plus, the content and format themselves are innovative: The story is told twice, from two different perspectives. Read it from Evelyn’s perspective; then flip the book over to read it from Brendan’s (or vice versa — the stories can be read in either order). This little magic trick is worked through accordion-folded paper and an extremely talented design team.

Oddly, we have the eBook to thank for creative bindings like this one. Now that publishers have to give customers a reason to choose books printed on paper over their electronic cousins, they’re more willing to take chances with paper arts and graphic design. We’re seeing this in small ways in books like The Night Circus (lots of graphic elements and fun type treatments) and in bigger ways through collections like Penguin’s deluxe clothbound editions, books that look gorgeous on your shelf in a way a Kindle never could. A paper copy of The Thorn and the Blossom gives you a tactile experience that its eBook edition can’t match.

On the other hand, intricate design and printing gimmicks can be tricky, putting even more pressure on a book to perform as a story. The content must be stronger than its packaging, and, in that respect, The Thorn and the Blossom didn’t deliver for me. It’s a tale of two star-crossed lovers whose lives are intertwined with scholarship, literature and magic (we have appearances by giants, a witch, and a heroine who literally glows with second sight). I’m a sucker for all these elements (I tore through Discovery of Witches, even though it’s not exactly high literature), but The Thorn and the Blossom never pulled me in. I just didn’t care what happened to Evelyn and Brendan. More than anything else, they annoyed me.

Of course, I have a high bar when it comes to romance and fantasy — I love them when they’re held together with a powerful story, and I hate them when they’re not. If you’re a sucker for any love story, or if a magical book never fails to cast a spell, I’d give The Thorn and the Blossom a shot. But, for me, it was a little like a disappointing relationship: perfect on paper, but the spark just wasn’t there.

Carrie Rollwagen is co-owner and book buyer at Church Street Coffee & Books.

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