It seems obligatory to begin any review of The Thorn and the Blossom: A Two-Sided Love Story by Theodora Goss by mentioning that the book is not traditionally bound. Rather, it has an accordion-fold binding, with Evelyn’s story printed on one side, and Brendan’s on the other. If this had been simply theatrics, I would have been disappointed, but in this instance the format enhances the story, rather than distracting from it. The binding is a tangible reminder that love stories are two-sided, that each of the lovers has their own perspective on events.
I chose to read Evelyn’s story first, for the simple reason that I like stories with women as lead characters. While the major events of the story are seen from both Evelyn and Brendan’s perspectives, and so the story can be enjoyably read from either direction, Evelyn’s story begins slightly before Brendan’s does, and his ends slightly after hers.
There is a secondary double-sidedness to this love story, and that is a thirteenth century Cornish poem, The Tale of the Green Knight. It’s a variant of the Sir Gawain tale, where Gawan aids Queen Elowen of Cornwall in a battle against sorcerous giants. They win, but at the expense of Elowen’s life. Morva, the giantess who, like Elowen, is in love with Gawan, curses Elowen so that she will never be with Gawan for one thousand years. The poem plays a major role in the story of Evelyn and Brendan.
The Thorn and the Blossom is a beautiful book. Not just physically, although it certainly is that, but in the story it tells. Goss’ prose is graceful and elegant, and she does a wonderful job of telling the same story twice without making the second reading seem repetitive. Evelyn and Brendan’s romance, for all the fantastic that hovers on the edges of their lives, reads as a real love story, with all of the mistakes and complications and joy that is contained in that description.
In many ways, while I think that the short length of the book contributes positively to the jewel-like qualities of the story, it is also the one thing that I wish had been different. I wanted to know more about how Evelyn came to accept the visions that she had previously been treating with medication as something that would have been called second sight, had they lived one hundred years earlier. I also wanted to know more about Brendan’s marriage, especially since, if Evelyn and Brendan are meant to be analogues of Elowen and Gawan, that puts Brendan’s wife in the role of Morva, a reading that seems colossally unfair.
But my wishing that there was more story did not have an effect on my enjoyment of the one I read. And indeed, the questions that remain are another reminder that even when a love story is two-sided, we still never see all of its pieces.