Review of Briar Girls by Rebecca Kim Wells
This was a pretty good read. It did have a few issues, but I found that I quite liked it anyway. This is actually my second Sleeping Beauty retelling that I have read in a row. That was not on purpose, I just wasn’t even thinking but it wasn’t the best decision since I did find myself comparing them some. What made this book stand out is that while it was a retelling, it really was a whole new story. While this uses a few similar things we all will recognize, for the most part, this was a new and well-imagined world that Wells wrote.
One of my biggest pet peeves in fantasy is when characters are passive and don’t have any real agency so everything is just done to them. I find those types of stories extremely frustrating to read and I never enjoy the characters much. When this book first started, I had a bad feeling it would fall into this particular pet peeve. It seemed like everything just kept happening to the main character. Luckily, that quickly changed and the character ended up almost always having choices. Sometimes they were not great choices, and sometimes I didn’t like what she chose, but the main got to make her own decisions and take control of her own destiny.
When it comes to any romance, the main character is bi and it looked like a love triangle was forming. I wasn’t that happy since I thought it seemed too forced, but then I realized that Wells was doing something very different instead. I have to go into a little more detail here so feel free to skip the rest of this paragraph if you are worried about finding out too much. Instead of being frustrated, I felt like Wells did a good thing here. The main character is almost 18, and due to her curse, she cannot touch anyone. In this book, she has the chance to have sex and is happy to finally have intimacy that she has never experienced before. While she enjoyed the intimacy, she realizes that she doesn’t want anything more from this person –except to be friends- and instead would rather look to see if she has real feelings for someone else. With all the slut-shaming that is so baked into books with female characters –and that guy characters that can sleep with multiple people but females can only sleep with “the one”- it was nice to see a sex-positive, YA book instead.
I liked the person the main character ends up falling for quite a bit. However, their relationship really needed more time to develop in the beginning. While it was not insta-love, it sure was insta-like. This is a pretty short book for fantasy, with a good world-building and decent magic system, and I think Wells missed the mark by not having the two characters spend more time alone together. Had they had more adventure together, face more peril together, you would have understood why they felt so bonded by the time the middle of the book rolled around. By the end of the book, I believed in them as a couple, because of everything they went through, but I needed to feel that chapters and chapters before when the characters were risking their lives for each other.
There are a few other issues I had but I don’t really want to go into much since this review is getting long. I will say that I had some pace issues in the first half. In fact, I just didn’t care for the first half in general as much. I thought it was okay, but something felt off that I can’t explain very well. However, the second half of the book really picked up and was good fantasy entertainment. I found myself completely glued to the story and really enjoyed the book so much more. So if you are feeling a little off in the first half, remember the book really does pick up in the second.
TLDR: This was my first book by Wells and it won’t be my last. While this had some issues, and I can understand the mixed earlier reviews, I still quite liked it. The first half is a bit bumpy, but Wells really hits her stride in the second half and it is good entertainment. The world-building is well done and this is a very unique take on a sapphic Sleeping Beauty retelling. 3.50 Stars.
A copy was given to me for a review.