by Jana Oliver
For Briar Rose, life is anything but a fairy tale. She’s stuck in a small town in deepest Georgia with parents who won’t let her out of their sight, a bunch of small-minded, gossiping neighbours and an evil ex who’s spreading nasty rumours about what she may or may not have done in the back of his car. She’s tired of it all, so when, on her sixteenth birthday, her parents tell her that she is cursed and will go to sleep for a hundred years when the clock strikes midnight, she’s actually kind of glad to leave it all behind. She says her goodbyes, lies down, and closes her eyes…
And then she wakes up. Cold, alone and in the middle of the darkest, most twisted fairy tale she could ever have dreamed of. Now Briar must fight her way out of the story that has been created for her, but she can’t do it alone. She never believed in handsome princes, but now she’s met one her only chance is to put her life in his hands, or there will be no happy ever after and no waking up.
I had meant to read Sarah Beth Durst’s Vessel after finishing up Team Human. I had it packed up in my carry-on and everything. Then I stumbled across this a few days before my trip, and plans changed.
I have mentioned more than once that I have a (renewed) love for fairytale reimaginings, and Briar Rose was no different. Before starting on the novel, I had checked up reviews on goodreads, without reading the full pieces to avoid spoilers. People compared it to Once Upon A Time – but I found that beyond it being a retake on a traditional fairytale, there was no similarity.
There were also a number of negative and semi-negative reviews claiming that the novel does not live up to Jana’s usual standards. These people claim that The Demon Trappers was all around better written than Briar Rose. However, this novel is my first foray into Jana’s works, so I cannot tell if these comparisons are accurate or not. On my part, I found the novel a thoroughly entertaining read, and I was hard-pressed to put it down. I think I finished it in barely two days.
The story was darker than I imagined it would be. Beginning with a fake death, it takes a few chapters for the premise to be fully set up, but we get a sense of the main character – fun-loving, peppy, pretty, but sheltered. Briar is occasionally flighty and more concerned with finding her prince than anything else – but once reality sets in, she steps up to the plate and becomes more than an admirable heroine.
On the other hand, there are many times when I wanted to hit Pat and Aurora and even Ruric over the head with something hard so that they would see sense. Still, over the course of the story, every character was given the potential to grow realistically (or as realistically as one can in a story about curses and fairytales) into better versions of themselves.
The underlying family feud between the Roses and the Quinns added a nice touch of distance and fragility to the blossoming relationship between Jeremy and Briar, as well as some angst as the truth behind the curse came out. It was all weaved into a beautiful tapestry covering fairytales, family history and friendships, with a message that emphasised family and friendship and loyalty, and having to take the first step to be the change you want to see, especially when it comes to breaking vicious cycles of animosity and lifelong grudges. Forgiveness takes time, but it can happen.
One thing that intrigued me, and I wish we had learnt more about it, was the inclusion of the fatas and the daracks, mythical creatures I have never come across before in any other text. I also wish we were told why Aurora was cursed in the first place, but I suppose the story was meant to be Briar’s, not Aurora’s.