Book Review: Patricia A. McKillip’s Alphabet of Thorn

Posted March 9, 2011 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Patricia A. McKillip’s Alphabet of ThornAlphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip
is a Fantasy
This edition was published by Ace Books on February 1, 2005 in paperback and has 291 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon..


A standalone fantasy novel.

My Take

I’m not sure if it’s an alphabet or a language of which McKillip writes. She describes an alphabet using thorny lines but when she writes of Nepenthe analyzing the individual “letters”, it sounds more like each letter is a word in a language. A minor detail as the alphabet is simply a background for the tale of the orphan, Nepenthe, and how she and her obsession with the alphabet of thorns affects the lives of everyone around her.

McKillip writes so lyrically of a kingdom undergoing political change as she provides us with its history. Her imagination is amazing as she creates a complete culture both similar and so different from her other stories. Its critical moment is astonishing in its uniqueness and breaks your heart with its conclusion.

Part of me is appalled by Kane’s decision and yet either choice is wrong. McKillip’s characters work their way into your heart, yes, even Axis even though you want to smack him.

The Story

Deep inside a palace on the edge of the world, Nepenthe pores over books in the royal library, translating their languages and learning their secrets. She knows little of the outside world — except for the documents that traders and travelers bring her to interpret.

Then, during the coronation of the new Queen of Raine, a young mage gives Nepenthe a book that has defied translation. Written in a language of thorns, it speaks to Nepenthe’s soul — and becomes her secret obsession. And, as the words escape the brambles and reveal themselves, Nepenthe finds her destiny entwined with that of the young queen’s. Sooner than she thinks, she will have to choose between the life she has led and the life she was born to lead…

The Cover and Title

The cover is odd with its jewel-like back and so very muted front.

The title is Nepenthe’s challenge, translating the Alphabet of Thorn.


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