The draw of Theodora Goss’s novel, The Thorn and the Blossom—helpfully subtitled, “A Two-Sided Love Story”—is its physicality. The cover—that is, the box/case—is strikingly lush (and I have a barely-curbed fondness for floral, as my linen can attest to); the book itself is in an accordion-fold binding, all the better to tell the mirrored stories; Scott McKowen has four illustrations simulating woodcut prints, all the better to evoke the medieval-tale overtones that the novel tries so very hard to push forward.
That is: The Thorn and the Blossom is foremost an object, a very beautiful one. It’s a tepid contemporary star-crossed-lovers yarn second, one made more tedious by the repetition two-sides-of-the-same-coin kinds of stories are always in danger of getting mired in. Unfortunately, Thorn fell into this trap often. What is the point of telling the same story—especially a love story—if you’re merely going to parrot the same lines, with only the most juvenile elaboration of the inner voice attached to bits of dialogue? You’re supposed to plumb deeper, not clumsily hobble sideways of either side of the story. Thank goodness it’s short—about thirty-five pages for each Evelyn Rose Morgan and Brendan Thorne.
It was not terrible, but I can’t even claim that it was good enough. It was, at its better moments, merely okay—most of the time, it was tolerably trite. (I remember calling it Nora Roberts Lite, which is not a compliment to either Goss or La Nora.) Essentially, it seemed a waste of physical beauty. And, of course, a waste of premise: Allusions to medieval texts alongside the study of them; the old trick of second-guessing a diagnosed mental illness; secrets you never really could keep; the opportunity to expand a romance, to lend weight to the stars-crossed-lovers trope. If this were not as beautiful an object as it is—if it didn’t have its ingenuous and rather striking form to help sell it—The Thorn and the Blossom would only be an example of lazy, rely-on-the-old-stories-and-let-them-lie writing. As it stands, Goss’s novel is more curiosity than anything else.