Ten Thousand Thorns by Suzannah Rowntree (2018)
When Princess Morning Light is born to the Coiling Dragon King a great celebration is prepared, to which the Eight Immortals are invited to bestow their blessings on the infant princess But only seven give a blessing - the eighth proclaims a curse that will cause the princess to pierce herself on the Golden Phoenix Sword on her sixteenth birthday, and enter into a profound meditation for a hundred years.
Sound familiar? Yes - Sleeping Beauty - but with martial arts and magical swords - yay!
Ten Thousand Thorns is a novella-length retelling of The Sleeping Beauty, or Little Brier Rose as the Grimm version is called. An imperial oriental age provides a fantastical setting to this story. Mountain temples and martial secrets abound, while characters bear such delightful names as: Peaceful-Countenance Lan, Lovely Flower, and Wild Goose. Immortal gods and goddesses might drop in on flying cranes, prophecies await fulfilment, warring rebels clash in displays of martial arts, and the kingdom struggles to free itself from a usurping Emperor that there might be peace to All-Under-Heaven.
Clouded Sky is a young martial artist thrust into the role of unwilling Hero. A mysterious girl, known as Iron Maiden, with stunning martial skill, embroils him in a quest. She wants him to seek out the fabled meditating princess and awaken her, now that a hundred years has passed. Waking the princess will restore the long-lost martial arts secrets that are needed to quell the evil emperor. Such a quest is fraught with danger at every turn, and Clouded Sky is unsure whom he can trust in a world of rebels and renegades, where everyone seems to serve their own truth.
I loved this imaginative retelling. Although it was novella length, it was still a satisfying story. The pace was fast, the setting was immersive; there was action, romance, heroism and mysticism in abundance. I thoroughly enjoyed Suzannah Rowntree’s storytelling, and will subsequently be reading her other fairy tale retellings in quick succession!