“Thornchapel knows my name and the crooked corners of my heart, and it wants me to make promises that I’m going to keep.”
Okay, I’m just going to be real with you all, if you love The Secret History, If We Were Villains, and/or Strange Grace, but wish they were all more sexually explicit? Then this is the book for you. This book is a love letter to polyamory, without ever using the word. This is f/f, m/m, m/f, and a whole lot of sexual group scenes. The atmosphere of all three of those books are the same, and a work of magic that most writers cannot craft, but Sierra Simone delivers and gave me a story that I’ve been waiting for what feels like my whole life for.
This is ownvoices for the queer representation and the narcolepsy representation. I only recall the word bisexual used once by one character (Beckett), but besides that bisexual or pansexual is never used on page (even though, if pansexual is used on page in book two, you will hear me screaming all the way from Vegas, this I swear), but all six characters express sexual attraction to multiple genders, and the author is bisexual. I have seen reviews that state all six characters are bi, but I just believe in my heart that there is no way that all six MGA (multiple gender attraction) characters are bisexual, I’m sorry. And if so, that’s not too inclusive and my pan-self wouldn’t want to read it, to be real honest with you all.
A Lesson in Thorns is a story that follows six characters who stayed at a remote manor, that is falling down, but is filled with secrets, called Thornchapel when they were young. The prologue of this book (which I really recommend you read on Amazon) shows them in the run-down chapel on the estate, where they are performing a fake marriage. And unexpectedly, the bride ends up marrying two grooms. Yet, the actual story starts out many years later, where all six of them are adults, but they all have returned to Thornchapel for one reason or another.
“I want him to be mine. Or I want to deny him the right to ever call me his. I want to heal him and I want to hurt him. All because of one broken kiss.”
➽ Auden – The heir. Pan or bi, and owner of Thornchapel.
➽ Prosperpina/Poe – The dreamer. Pan or bi, narcoleptic, total submissive, and just took a job at Thornchapel in the library, but she is secretly trying to figure out what happened to her mother after a mysterious note is sent to her.
➽ Becket – The priest. Bisexual, and living his life for God.
➽ Rebecca – The genius. Pan or bi, Black, and the Dom of my dreams.
➽ Delphine – The socialite. Pan or bi, plus-sized, Instagram famous, and engaged to Auden.
➽ St. Sebastian – The saint. Pan or bi, biracial (white and Mexican), and feels like he ruins all the lives that he touches.
“he wanted to shelter them from the rain and force them to kneel in the mud too, and he didn’t know what it meant or why it was happening”
And when these six characters get together, and get to re-know each other, secrets unfold and lives change. Even though Poe is the main character, each of these individuals feels completely fleshed out, and each are on their own personal journeys toward happiness, even if the road is very bumpy to get there.
But this is ultimately a book about finding yourself and your acceptance and happiness, even if it feels like your life has already been decided for you, regardless of your wishes and wants. It also showcases the importance of friendships and romantic relationships, and how sometimes those lines can blur, and sometimes they don’t, but sometimes they become something more. Also, I am just really into polyamorous stories right now, and I think that this one is really beautifully done, especially with the chilling atmosphere that leaves so much mystery in the air. This story is truly has so many compelling elements, it was just impossible to put down.
I also want to briefly mention that I really love and value the discussion this book has about the concept of virginity, and what a stupid pedestal so many people place it on. Also, how virginity (and losing it) can mean so much more than a penis going inside a vagina. I really loved how this book handled that, and I love how it completely shattered the stereotype of what it means to lose your virginity. Be still, my queer heart.
Overall, I just love Sierra Simone and I have enjoyed everything I’ve read from her, but A Lesson in Thorns is for sure my favorite. This is such an inclusive novel, from race, sexuality, and social and economic standings. This book also talks about reclaiming your body after someone takes a piece of it, while also discussing that there are so many ways to heal from loss and hurt. And I just think it is so wonderfully done, on top of being one of the sexiest things I’ve read all year. Like, I will never be the same after that spin the bottle scene, holy shit. But I absolutely cannot wait to read Feast of Sparks this summer.
Content and trigger warnings talk of rape and assault in the past, abandonment, and loss of a loved one.
[EDIT:] Yes, I did drop my rating to four stars. I emailed the author and she was very kind and very respectful, but she did confirm that all six of these characters are for sure bi “but not deeply tied to their labels” for this entire series. I’m going to be probably a little too real with you, but this has been a really rough Pride for me in the book world. In my real life, I am so lucky to be accepted and supported as a pansexual and panromantic woman, but the book world constantly makes me feel like I’m a lesser version of bi and I can’t take it any longer. The fact that I am forced to try so very hard to see myself in literature, to force myself in cutouts that apparently weren’t made for me, and just knowing that authors could so easily give me a breadcrumb of representation without having to do any work what so ever, yet here I am crying over a romance book that refuses to acknowledge my queer existence once again. I’m just tired friends, and I’m fed up, and I can’t believe that I’ve still only read the word pansexual on page in about ten books for my entire life, when I read and review 100+ books a year. I’m sick of being erased, I’m sick of being not enough, and I can’t wait for the day when pan kids don’t have to figure out what pansexual and panromantic mean in their 20’s, because the book world proves over and over that we aren’t worth the representation and that bisexual and biromantic should always be the default for multiple gender attraction characters.