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  • Writer's pictureKindig

Bitterthorn - ***


Blumwald is a town overshadowed by an ancient curse: in a sinister castle in the depths of the wild wood lives a monstrous Witch. Once a generation, she comes to claim a companion to return with her – never to be seen again. Now that time is drawing near once more...

Mina, daughter of the duke, is grieving and lonely. She has lost all hope of any future for herself in Blumwald. So when the Witch demands her next companion, Mina offers herself up – though she has no idea what fate awaits her. Stranded with her darkly alluring captor, the mystery of what happened to the previous companions draws Mina into the heart of a terrifying secret that could save her life, or end it.


I’m not really sure on my feelings after reading Bitterthorn which is a dark, gothic fairytale for 2023 with a queer love story at its heart.

On one hand I enjoyed reading it, the mystery of what the Witch is up to and the secrets of her castle home and the predecessors who had been her companions before really kept me hooked and I read the book quickly in just a few sittings. Mina is a sad main character - a woman who has little interest in men and is belittled and put down by her stepmother and ignored by the rest of her family. I do think the book should have trigger warnings for depictions of self-harm and suicidal thoughts, even though these are only fleeting at the beginning.

The plot is relatively slow paced and information about the Witch and her castle are drip-fed to us throughout. It can sometimes feel a little too slow but the premise of finding out what was going on was enough to keep me interested. In the author’s notes Kat Dunn writes that she wrote the book to show that ‘loneliness makes monsters of us all’ and we can see this in the main character of the Witch who is harsh and sometimes cruel. In the book Mina slowly chips away at this cold exterior to reveal a woman who is vulnerable and kind. However, I can’t help thinking that this is not really a very healthy message about relationships for 2023. If you are treated badly, if the person that you love shouts or lashes out, this book gives the message that we should persevere and treat them kindly and yet sometimes this is not in the best interests of our health or our relationships and can be a great excuse for abuse. Just a thought…

Overall, Bitterthorn is a slow-burn fantasy with a mystery which keeps you hooked throughout, I’m just not sure about its message about love and relationships at its core. Thank you to NetGalley & Andersen Press for the chance to read the ARC in exchange for an honest review.


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