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High-Concept/Folklore/Romanciful, 82 pages
Published January 17th 2012 by Quirk Books
I'm a fan of Quirk Books. They're always looking for ways to challenge the status quo a bit, try something new, and I appreciate that. (And with hits like Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children to their name, they aren't doing a bad job of it, either.) So I'm always curious to see what they have planned next. But The Thorn and the Blossom surprised even me. I mean, I knew of accordion bindings in a sort of abstract way, as something that's just not done. And yet, here they are, doing it.
And I have to say, I liked it.
I'm sure some will find the accordion binding gimmicky, and hey, maybe it is, but the fact is, it's also perfectly suited to the story that's being told. Evelyn and Brendan's stories just ...wouldn't have been the same if they were just told in parts, rather than back to back. I can't explain why, but it would have lessened it somehow.
Their stories fit together and complemented each other very nicely, and the unique format of the book helped facilitate that. I was worried that it was going to be a little hard to read, but aside from a bit of flopping about when I first began reading, the book actually wasn't that hard to manage. Also - it's a flipping accordion. I would have put up with a bit of frustration just to be able to play with the book like a magic deck of cards...
But onto the story itself. You can start at either side, and I started with Evelyn. I have no idea how or if this colored my reading of the story, but I have to say I'm glad I started with Evelyn. It felt right, starting with her, and plunged me into the magical feel of the book a bit more thoroughly than I think it would have if I'd started with Brendan. Regardless of where you start, though, the story is very sweet and charming. It's modern, but it reads a bit like a fairy tale, borrowing from folklore and adding in some magical realist bits that kept me completely engaged. But light as it was, Evelyn and Brendan are adults and so are there stories - there were touches of darkness, little bits of doubt, but done so very lightly and subtly. It worked to make the fairy tale aspect seem heightened, but also more real. It was that little bit of counterpoint to an otherwise almost airy story that helped ground it and make it have a little more impact.
It's an incredibly quick read, being only about 80 pages - a slim little novella easily read in 1 sitting. I know some people don't like to read anything under novel length; they feel like they won't get enough meat to the story, that there's not enough depth or development in such a short span. And yes, I suppose there isn't a ton of development going on in this book; there are things glossed over, large swaths of time skipped. But it didn't feel like any negligence on Goss' part. It just wasn't necessary. As I said, it's very much like a fairy tale, like a story people would tell aloud, and those are never very lengthy. They tend instead to be brief, succinct, relying on a few symbols and common tropes, and the reader's (or listener's) familiarity with them to give the story any import.
In this case, there can be no real conclusion to the story, other than the ones drawn by readers. I mean, with a story that is going to be retold as soon as you finish it (since you are merely flipping the book over and starting again), you can't know for sure how it ends, or it would give away the other half and render it pointless. But it's the type of ending where all pieces are there, and it's up to the reader to determine how everything will go from there - whether the magic contained in this slim book is worldly or otherworldly - and whether it matters at all, so long as there is love.
So, gimmicky or not, Goss carries it off well, and I think this would be a pleasant addition (perhaps even a necessary addition) to any bibliophile's coffee table. And if you don't believe me, just wait until you see it in person. See if you can resist the siren song of the accordion binding then...