Briar and Rose and Jack by Katherine Coville was not what I expected. It was much better. When you pick up a middlegrade novel, I feel like you have certain developed expectations for how the novel is going to be, but Briar and Rose and Jack surprised me. A lot. And as much as I love the cover here, I don’t quite think that it does itself justice. I feel as though it really leaves you with ideas about the book prior to reading it that just don’t actually come true. Admittedly, this is entirely based on my own expectations about the novel, but at the end of the day the book I read was not the one I had pictured I would be reading and I’m actually pretty glad for it because this one was more than I could have hoped for.
The first thing that surprised me about this book was not that it was written in present tense, but rather that the present tense itself didn’t bother me in the slightest. I’ve always been rather against books that are written in present tense, so much so that I almost always rate them lower. And despite the fact that I’ve almost always found present tense massively annoying, I barely noticed it at all while reading this book. Next was the fact that this novel is middlegrade as there were a great many words that even I didn’t know the definition of, let alone a young kid. The reading level is definitely more advanced for the age that it’s written for.
The story follows the lives of twin sisters Briar and Rose from their birth, where Briar is immediately cast out and disowned at the urging of a vicious priest, to the time of their sixteenth birthday where the curse cast on the infant children for the slight of not having extended an invitation to the grey fairy. In a kingdom plagued by a selfish and angry giant who comes down from the mountain and regularly smashes a hole in the castle wall as he demands gold and destroys the homes of the peasants and a villainous bishop whispering lies to the king and the people while harboring an extra special hatred for young Briar, the two young Princesses grow up in a world with plenty of injustices.
Among them lies the injustice of poor Briar being disowned and mistreated. Both Briar and Rose have no knowledge of their relation, though they grow up exceedingly close. It is in this portion of the novel that I find the book was most difficult to read as there are unfortunate incidents in which Briar is described as being “beaten” by the bishop. This was the most uncomfortable portion of the book for me because, despite being about a fictional world in a time period where such treatments were unfortunately acceptable, it didn’t sit well with me.
But overall, the story was thoroughly engaging and the characters were wonderful in so many ways. I found myself invested in their stories almost instantly, eager to learn where the story was going and how the problems would all be solved. The girls end up forming a secret Giant Killers club with a young boy called Jack whom they meet on an adventure into the woods. This club slowly branches out to include some of the nobles’ children who live in the palace and a great many of the young kids from the village outside the castle and the rest of the kingdom.
I’ve always loved retellings and I found it especially fun to read this one, a mix of Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk blended more beautifully than I could have imagined up on my own. I was thoroughly pleased and impressed with the ending, to the point that I definitely want to get a physical copy of this one as soon as I can. Seeing as it wont be out until around summer of next year, that’ll probably be a while. Briar an Jack and Rose is definitely a book to have on your radar, just keep in mind if you’re giving this to a young reader that they might not know all the words.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.