Author: Gina Chen
Series: Violet Made of Thorns duology (#1)
Publication date: July 26, 2022
Genre: YA fantasy
My rating: 4.5/5 stars
Fantasy politics. Morally questionable main character. Lies and prophecies and the blurry lines between the two. The girl who wants to kill Prince Charming instead of flirt with him. Enemies-to-lovers romance. Have I convinced you yet? Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen was one of my most-anticipated books of 2022, and reader, it delivered. This is the sort of debut that makes me incredibly excited about this author’s future works (and has me chomping at the bit for the sequel!). Read on for my review of this riveting title, along with a (somewhat lengthy) list of quotes I loved from it.
A darkly enchanting fantasy debut about a morally gray witch, a cursed prince, and a prophecy that ignites their fate-twisted destinies—perfect for fans of The Cruel Prince and Serpent & Dove.
Violet is a prophet and a liar, influencing the royal court with her cleverly phrased—and not always true—divinations. Honesty is for suckers, like the oh-so-not charming Prince Cyrus, who plans to strip Violet of her official role once he’s crowned at the end of the summer—unless Violet does something about it.
But when the king asks her to falsely prophesy Cyrus’s love story for an upcoming ball, Violet awakens a dreaded curse, one that will end in either damnation or salvation for the kingdom—all depending on the prince’s choice of future bride. Violet faces her own choice: Seize an opportunity to gain control of her own destiny, no matter the cost, or give in to the ill-fated attraction that’s growing between her and Cyrus.
Violet’s wits may protect her in the cutthroat court, but they can’t change her fate. And as the boundary between hatred and love grows ever thinner with the prince, Violet must untangle a wicked web of deceit in order to save herself and the kingdom—or doom them all.
Trigger/content warning: self-harm for magic purposes
This is it: the morally gray witchy prophetess I didn’t know I needed. Violet was a fantastic protagonist in this book, with a perfect mix of sass, strength, and stubbornness, but seasoned with self-doubt and an (understandable) inability to trust. Violet is an accomplished liar (or teller of half-truths, depending on who you ask) and filled with a ruthless sense of self-preservation. And her quick wit, coupled with her insightful (and somewhat cynical) view of the world and her willingness to push back against anyone made her narration entertaining and unpretentious to read while simultaneously leading me to highlight an absurd number of lines (see my incredibly lengthy list of quotes below, and know that this was a pared-down version of my full highlights).
That’s not to say that she was the only character in this story; the supporting characters were engaging to read about as well. There’s Dante, the sassy gay misanthrope-turned-best-friend. There’s Camilla, the princess who loves fashion but also has a keen eye for unearthing deception. There’s King Emilius, an horrid imperialist with a silver tongue and an iron grip on his court. And there’s Cyrus, the idealistic young prince who just wants to find his true love to fulfill the prophecy…despite his feelings for Violet, who is strictly off-limits.
And oh, this romance. Fans of enemies-to-lovers will relish this part of the story. The tension between Cyrus and Violet crackles in their every interaction. The power dynamic between them is an interesting one–he is the future king and thus her future leader, while she is the Seer who has the ability to keep him from the throne with a few well-chosen words–and so they skirt the edges of their duties, look for loopholes in the rules and boundaries around them, reluctant to admit feelings but nevertheless finding their attraction sometimes overpowering. There is banter, there is a literal dagger-to-the-throat moment, there is betrayal, and there is even a little bit of steam. Nothing super spicy or very explicit, but there is a sex scene that is not graphic but also not fade-to-black. And, following one of my favorite tropes, there is a dose of grumpy/sunshine here, with the stone-hearted Violet and passionate Cyrus.
I know the plot may not be everyone’s cup of tea, as it is really driven by intrigue and political scheming, not by action and sword fights (though there are plenty of monsters and a dark enchanted forest!), but I absolutely loved that element of the story. This is a kingdom where everyone lies to get what they want, and nothing can be taken for granted. The mix of magic types–fairies, Seers, witches, Fates and gods, and more–made for a complex power system that those on the throne don’t fully comprehend, and Violet’s existence at the juncture of magic and royalty highlighted both sides of this struggle. And there were some nice nods to classic Western fairytales, including Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, among others, which lent a nice intertextuality to the story.
I will say, there were a few things I would have liked to see fleshed out a bit more—Camilla didn’t get quite as much development as I would have liked to see, and there were a lot of things that remained unanswered about the fairies and certain blood magic elements, but I’ll concede that perhaps the author is reserving these for exploration in the sequel. (I do low-key ship Camilla with another character who will remain nameless for now.) I also would have liked a little more on the history between the two neighboring kingdoms, beyond their recent border struggles under King Emilius; given the political elements that informed all the characters’ actions, I would have liked a little more historical political insight to round out the worldbuilding. However, again these are small things and didn’t hurt the book at all; I just think they would have helped it shine even brighter.
In short, this was a book that more than lived up to my mental expectations for it. Highly recommended for anyone who likes their books filled with tension of all sorts–internal, political, and romantic–and fans of fantasy where the romance really is relevant to the plot.
Rep: Asian MC, gay male SC, queer female SC
I had so many lines highlighted in this book–the author did a great job of bouncing between humorous, beautiful, and impactful language, and I’ve tried to capture all of that with this sampling of things I enjoyed! I bolded a couple that are especially favorites. (All quotes are spoiler-free.)
- A small lie goes down like overwatered wine. You hardly notice it, and if you do, it isn’t a big enough problem to complain about.
- He’s the type of person who could get along with anyone if he wanted to, but it turns out he usually doesn’t want to.
- Integrity only matters if people care about integrity. A good leader is better a clever liar than honorable and useless.
- “You’ll need the whole package to survive: brains, beauty, and backstabbing.”
- Conquerors write history and destroy histories in one triumphant swoop.
- “She’ll corrupt you, you know.”
“I can corrupt myself just fine, thank you.”
- “Power is nice, but responsibility is not.”
- I don’t have the luxury of being nice. The only people who are nice are those who have never had to claw for anything they’ve wanted.
There are kind people, like Dante, who know how unfair life is and somehow hold onto their compassion. I’m not kind either.
Kind people get eaten alive in this world.
- When truth is relative, you make yourself the axis.
- There are no love stories found upon the throne. Only secrets and schemes and spider-fingered kings.
- “I would never exist just to be enjoyed.” That’s what porcelain plates are for, and sunrises and honey cakes and baby animals with heads too big for them to lift.
- You can’t call something a miracle if you can explain it before it happens.
- “Good intentions do not negate your mistakes.”
- I’m no villain–just an opportunist, like everyone else.
- Our entanglement wasn’t inevitable in the way of the stars, but in the way you can only toss so many lit matches at a powder keg before one catches–and I should have stopped tossing matches.
- “In dates or death, go out in style.”
As always, there are a bunch of hosts who have been working really hard to make this tour a reality. You can take a look at the schedule HERE to find links to more posts, including reviews, quotes, reactions, mood boards, and even a journal spread! There are also some lovely photos on Instagram (including one from yours truly), so stay tuned for those as well.
About the Author
Gina Chen tells stories about fantastic worlds featuring heroines, antiheroines, and the kind of cleverness that brings trouble in its wake. A self-taught artist with a degree in computer science, she generates creative nonsense in all forms of media and always has a project stewing. Violet Made of Thorns is her debut fantasy novel. For more info, visit actualgina.com and follow @actualgina on Twitter and Instagram.
Huge thank you to TBR and Beyond Tours and the publisher for providing me with an eARC of this book via NetGalley as part of my participation in this tour! All opinions are my own.