5 Reasons Why You Need to Read Sierra Simone’s A Lesson in Thorns
I’m a professor of writing, albeit an adjunct who spends her time facilitating the learning of introductory college writing. It is NOT glamorous. In order to do this job, I earned a Master’s in English with an emphasis in Literature and Composition. Basically, I read a LOT of books (the classics) and wrote rhetorical analyses of them. I know a little something about reading and analyzing literature.
Romance is a genre that has allowed me to quiet my analytical brain. It was necessary so I could fall in love with reading again because ten years of teaching writing had started to make me hate it. Assumedly, I thought, given my occupation and background, I needed to analyze everything and read more “high-brow” tomes. And it overwhelmed me to think about books in that way. It was disappointing. However, quickly, romance became my guilty pleasure. The more I read it, the more it allows me to relax and to be entertained in a way that makes me love reading again. In the past year, I’ve read many romances that offer the basics. There isn’t anything wrong with it. I still love them. Yet, nothing makes me more excited than to find authors who marry the romance genre with a deeper literary style. It gives depth to the breadth of romance in a way that my little literary inner self geeks out. And Sierra Simone is one of those authors. The American Camelot series was my first foray into her romances, and that series. changed. everything. At least for me.
With her newest offering, A Lesson in Thorns, my inner lit student cried and screamed and shouted for joy. This new book (and its forthcoming siblings/cousins) is a must-read for EVERY romance reader. Yes. I said it…every one of you. Here’s why…
- This book is romance for everyone. This is a book about love in any sense of the word. There are six characters: Auden (who I hope is named after W.H. Auden, the English-American modernist poet), St. Sebastian (Saint), Proserpina (Poe), Delphine, Rebecca, and Beckett. Each of them brings a different type of “love” to this book. If you love MMF, MM, FF, MF, etc., then you MUST read this book because Simone gives us all of it. Even more, Beckett, the priest, gives us another level of love in his efforts to contain his “zeal” which is just another type of love for life or things or emotions. At its core, this book says that “love is love” no matter the circumstance, and there is both beauty and destruction in it.
- I said there were six main characters in this story. I lied. There are actually 7 because Thornchapel, the family residence of Auden, is also a main character. It is the underlying essence of this book. Much like Jane of Jane Eyre being thrown into the Red Room, a room that seems to breathe and hold secrets, for punishment or sent to work at Thornfield (where noises of the place bring Rochester’s secret to life) has a setting played such a key role. All of the characters in A Lesson in Thorns are drawn to Thornchapel. They spend one summer together, and this place takes up residence in their souls to the point that characters dream of it a decade later. Thornchapel becomes one with their souls, and they cannot find themselves collectively or individually without, once again, inhabiting it. That dynamic breathes a supernatural feeling into this book. As you read the book, you can’t help but feel the ominous nature of the setting changing the characters, while changing you the reader. It’s compelling and feels dangerous as you read.
- Sierra Simone’s prose is like very few other romance writers. In her Facebook group, many of the early readers noted that they needed to read this book with a dictionary. They weren’t lying. She elevates her writing. Her prose is rife with beauty and poetry. There is an elevation to it. However, she couples her words with simplicity. As you read some heady vocabulary, she might pair it with simple sentences to underscore definitive moments in the story (simple sentences are often used for emphasis). Her style is heady and raises the elegance of the genre to another level.
- Her imagery. Oh dear Lord, her imagery. This book is titled A Lesson in Thorns because this book is that, a lesson in the desires of its characters. There is no coincidence that Thornchapel is named that name. Each of the characters holds a secret/a desire, in this book, a thorn. These thorns, or as I saw it a connection to sin, are described as bounded within the souls of the characters. When a particular character thinks about their secret (I refuse to divulge them to you…read the book), Simone uses the image of the thorn to help us understand the secrets significance in the life of the character. Just as thorns exist with the beauty of a flower, you must endure them to admire the flower more tacitly. The flora of Thornchapel is alson described similar to the inner struggles and souls of the characters in the story: heavy and thorny. These images are overwhelming. They lend a depth and heaviness to this book that is felt in your chest as you read it. Some of the early readers talked about fear. Simone’s images create this. It’s so powerful as it intermixes with the love affairs of the story. There is so much deprivation and denial in this story, and the imagery of the thorns illustrates it profoundly.
- The feelings of this book overwhelm you in a way that makes this book necessary. I’ve talked about Simone’s definition of love, her characterizations, her prose, and her images. What makes this book a necessary read is the way she can take a collective memory, the collective memory of the characters to each other and Thornchapel, and turn it into nostalgia. Even more, she then uses her prose and images and characterizations and story to make you, the reader, feel the profundity of the nostalgia. Throughout the book, I had this strange feeling in my stomach and chest as though I could relate to the experience of the memory of a past summer. It overwhelms you as you read it, but in a way that reminds you that memories and unresolved feelings need resolution.
And that was the biggest connection I found to her book. Maybe I’m being too much of a former lit student here, but I’d like to think that Simone is trying to bring us a story of love, a love between a group and its members. A story of accepting our natures in a way that doesn’t need to be denied. A story of finding truth and resolution of the past so that we can move forward more intentionally in the future. There is something significant about this book and the series. And if you don’t read it, you are missing out on one of the best, most significant books of 2019.
In love and romance,