If you’re looking for your next addictive enemies-to-lovers YA fantasy story, look no further than Gina Chen’s darkly magical debut, Violet Made Of Thorns. Full of court intrigue, witchy machinations and characters whose motives are as untrustworthy as their morals, it’s a tale of fate-twisted destinies and the price that must be paid for defying prophecies.
Violet is a Seer, influencing the royal court with her divinations. But not all of Violet’s visions and premonitions are true. She is a master at cleverly phrasing her words to suit the King’s wishes, something that’s set her at odds with the infuriatingly charming Prince Cyrus, who knows he can’t trust Violet’s loyalty, let alone her prophecies. Facing certain dismissal the moment the sickly King abdicates to his son, Violet will do anything to hold on to her eminent title and comfortable life.
Which is why, when the King asks her to lie about the arrival of Cyrus’ one true love at an upcoming ball, Violet does exactly as he asks. But in doing so, she unwittingly awakens a dreaded curse that will end in either damnation or salvation – for herself, for Cyrus, and for the whole kingdom. It all depends on Cyrus’ choice of future bride – not an easy decision when his head and his heart seem to want different things. Whilst Cyrus decides where his affections lie, Violet has her own choice to make: seize control of her own destiny, or surrender her heart to a Prince who might end up banishing her anyway.
I am a better liar than I am a prophet. I don’t believe there’s reason to our destinies. I don’t believe the world is just. I believe in wolves—in con men and crowned men who wear wickedness as if it were a talent. Who don’t ask for judgment before devouring what’s theirs.”
From the very moment Chen’s thorny protagonist is introduced, it’s evident that she’s going to spend the entire story ruffling some serious feathers. Violet is snarky and ambitious, crafty and mistrustful. She’s openly derisive of the courtly world she exists in but fully aware that her existence relies on it. Which of course only makes her more ruthless, bitter and uncompromising. She’s not afraid of being rude or upsetting people – as long as it isn’t the King, and even better if it’s Cyrus. In fact, Violet delights in riling the Prince, something that fuels their long-buried fever for each other.
As much as Violet gets under Cyrus’ skin, he has the same effect on her too. Their distrustful and combative relationship never lets up for a second. Even as they give in to their desires, there’s still a very real chance that one will betray the other and vice versa. Chen’s story thrives on never allowing readers to become complacent. Violet and Cyrus are enemies-to-lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers-to… you get the emotionally tangled, politically complicated picture.
The problematic relationship between the morally grey prophet and the cursed prince isn’t the only thing that makes Chen’s debut such an easy book to fall in love with. It has the feel of a classic fairytale, complete with a wicked witch and monstrous creatures plucked straight from a Brothers Grimm story. Yet it’s Chen’s fast paced writing and witty dialogue – not forgetting the story’s wider cast of unashamedly flamboyant characters – that puts it right up there with this year’s best YA fantasy novels.
Violet Made of Thorns is the most enchanting ‘I hate you, but I can’t stop thinking about you, and I also might be in love with you, but I’ll probably end up killing you’ book since Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince. Violet and Cyrus bicker and hurt each other just as much as Jude and Cardan ever did, and whilst they’re not yet on the same level as The Folk of the Air’s beloved enemies turned staunch lovers, these are two characters with the power to steal their way into readers hearts, in much the same way they sneak into each other’s.
Violet Made of Thorns is published by Hodder & Stoughton on 26 July 2022