Title: Flower and Thorn
Author: Rati Mehrotra
Genres: Fantasy, Historical, Romance
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now
Summary: Irinya has wanted to be a flower hunter ever since her mother disappeared into the mysterious mist of the Rann salt flats one night. Now seventeen, Irinya uses her knowledge of magical flowers to help her caravan survive in the harsh desert. When her handsome hunting partner and childhood friend finds a priceless silver spider lily—said to be able to tear down kingdoms and defeat an entire army—Irinya knows this is their chance for a better life.
Until Irinya is tricked by an attractive imposter.
Irinya’s fight to recover the priceless flower and to fix what she’s done takes her on a dangerous journey, one she’s not sure she’ll survive. She has no choice but to endure it if she hopes to return home and mend the broken heart of the boy she’s left behind.
Review: [Flower and Thorn contains some fairly graphic descriptions of injuries and death, including a haunting supernatural body horror moment.]
Flower and Thorn is a book with some fascinating world-building elements. While it is undeniably a fantasy (with magical flowers that can utter ominous and cryptic comments to our protagonist), the background driver of the plot is actually the Gujarat Sultanate resisting Portuguese colonialism. The blending of fantastical and historical elements is where Flower and Thorn shines, and author Rati Mehrotra did great work in that arena. I also appreciated how Flower and Thorn tackled inequality and oppression within the sultanate at the same time it highlighted the horrors of colonialism, from sexism affecting the nobles’ preferences for an heir to how the flower hunters and their families are exploited and kept in poverty.
The magical flowers are key plot points throughout the story, both in their comparative rarity and their abilities. I really enjoyed the flower hunting scenes in the Rann. Mehrotra did a fantastic job of selling how difficult and dangerous the work could be—and how dangerous the flowers and their thorns could be in the wrong hands. I still can’t quite picture how using the silver spider lily would actually play out, but the concrete effects of the jasmine, hibiscus, and other flowers helped bolster my belief that it could topple enemies and that it desperately needed to be kept away from the Portuguese.
I had mixed feelings about Irinya as a protagonist. When it came to the adventuring side of the book, her stubbornness and determination to see things through were fantastic. The climax in the Rann and Irinya’s emotional journey there were perfection—I was delighted every step on the salt flats. I also enjoyed the romance despite the love interest being off-screen for the bulk of the book. But Irinya was so wildly out of her depth when it came to the palace intrigue portions of the plot that I found myself increasingly frustrated by her choices. The very first chapters of the book are about her being betrayed (it’s in the summary!), so I was certain she would be more cautious, be more suspicious of others, or try to gather more information before acting as we continued, and that just didn’t pan out like I’d hoped.
Recommendation: Borrow it someday if you’re a fan of fantasy. The blending of fantasy and history made Flower and Thorn a highly interesting read, and I appreciated the unique magic system. The climax and conclusion of the book were very well done, and I appreciated the emotional journey even if some of the plot points frustrated me. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for Rati Mehrotra’s future books.