Site design by
About Helen Lowe Thornspell Home The Thrush The Castle The Sword Sigismund Sigismund The Sparrow The Margravine The Dragon
Buttons Read Chapter 1 About Helen Lowe Links and Contact Reviews

Random House (USA)
Random House (Canada)


Just A Really Good Book — 14 Out Of 5 Stars!

Kid's Choice 2009: Wellington City Libraries June 2009

Listen to Selina's review here


Darkly Imaginative and Sensual

Canvas (Weekend Herald) 18 April 2009

The winner of a Robbie Burns poetry award brings her lyrical skills to this reinvention of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. It's told from the perspective of Prince Sigismund, whose life changes dramatically after he meets a mysterious and malevolent lady and he realises he has a mysterious—and thorny—future. Lowe gives what might have been yet another fantasy quest story a darkly imaginative and sensual dimension as her hero fights his way between his world and the strange faerie realm. ~ Frances Grant

Link: None available


Magical Drama

Kirkus Reviews: August 15, 2008

A quiet hero anchors this nicely crafted blend of fairy tale and dreamscape. Prince Sigismund lives in the West Castle; the King placed him there for safety before riding off to quell rebellions. Bordering the castle is a thick wood that a 100-year-old interdiction prohibits entering. One day a strange woman approaches the castle gate and offers Sigismund a gleaming ring. His head buzzes, he falls down in a fever and dreams plague him. The ring-bearing Margravine had placed a death spell on a princess in the wood; the Faie who tweaked the spell's result into a 100-year sleep hides in Sigismund's lilac garden. An enigmatic, amber-eyed man named Balisan trains Sigismund for years in meditation, swordsmanship and walking consciously in dreams. A scrubby girl bound in thorns repeatedly helps Sigismund escape the Margravine as he finds his path among faie, human and dream realms to the princess he must awaken. A narrative that begins as an exploration of fairy-tale archetypes thus moves into a very human and nevertheless magical drama. Thoughtful and understated. (Fantasy.)

Link: Not available except for subscribers


Skilful Retelling

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books; circ: 3000
July & August 2008

Crown prince Sigismund is tired of being sequestered in a castle far away from his father and the court, but he is fascinated by local legends of the ancient wood that borders royal lands. People are forbidden to enter the wood, which is said to have a castle at its heart, and none can say whether the occupants of the mysterious castle are friends or foe; Sigismund himself encounters a lady through the castle gate who is clearly gifted with power as well as beauty. When Sigismund is finally allowed to come to court, he takes part in a hunt that claims the life of one of his retainers, and his grief distracts him so that he finds himself captured and imprisoned in a fairy hill . . .  This "Sleeping Beauty" retelling skilfully expands the basic story of the uninvited guest seeking revenge into a full-blooded tale of ambition and romance. Additional richness accrues from the prince's having magical powers of his own, and the loopholes in the sleeping counter-spell that allow prince and princess to meet before her awakening are clever indeed. The charming modifications hang together nicely with the traditional elements of the story, and romance readers as well as fairy tale aficionados will delight in this deft handling of the tale."

Link: Not available except for subscribers


Believable Hero

School Library Journal: April 2009

After his mother's death, Prince Sigismund, 14, is sequestered in a remote castle for his own protection. He dreams of knights-errant and quests, but knows that as the only heir to the kingdom, it's unlikely that he can pursue them. However, he soon learns that magic is real—and is a threat to his life and his kingdom. The legend of a princess who's been sleeping for 100 years is true, and Sigismund may be the one who can break the spell. With help from his magical paladin teacher, Balisan, Sigismund develops his own fighting and magical skills while dealing with palace intrigues and threats from a powerful faie sorceress, the Margravine zu Malvolin. While she is truly malevolent, Sigismund finds a group of magical allies, including the faie who had cast the spell, and a silent girl he names Rue. A daring quest of his own brings all of Sigismund's skills into play as he confronts danger and magic to find love and save his kingdom. Lowe brings the fairy tale to life, adding both complexity and a believable hero, as well as an Aurora who's more than just a "sleeping beauty."  This is a fun retelling with much to offer readers. Beth L. Meister.

Link: Not available except for subscribers


Swordplay and Dangerous Escapades

Booklist, November 1, 2008:

Confined to a country castle while his father fights in the south, bored Prince Sigismund dreams of adventures he believes happen only in stories. The nearby Wood is the source of most of his fantasies; it's been forbidden since his great grandfather's time, and stories abound as to why. No one visits the castle, and the gates rarely open, so when Sigismund spies a wealthy carriage on the road, he rushes to meet it and is flung headlong into an adventure involving the dangerous Wood, an enchanted palace, and a princess sleeping among thorns. Aided by a dragon and other allies, his own magic, and a legendary sword, Sigismund must break the spell before the evil faie who cast it can gain enough power to take over his world. This re-imagining of "Sleeping Beauty" follows the prince as he develops from a wistful little boy who longs for his stern father's approval into the worthy hero he is destined to be. This version fittingly has more swordplay and dangerous escapades than romance, but it still ends happily ever after.

Krista Hutley

Link: Not available except for subscribers


***** Great YA Fantasy Story

Sacramento Books Reviews, December 14, 2008:

Prince Sigismund always dreamed of a life of heroism, adventure, beasts, and fair maidens in need of rescue. What little boy hasn't? But, in Helen Lowe's first novel, she takes a behind-the-scenes look at the classic Sleeping Beauty and puts it in the perspective of the prince, the one who awakens her from her sleep. With engaging characters and an energetic and magical plot, this book should capture the attention of all readers, breaking away from its genre of Young Adult. This book honors prince Charming's qualities, and does not damage the old story in any way. With a handful of plot twists and dangers lurking behind every page, this book will keep the reader engaged well after the final page, and Helen Lowe will be sure to have a cult following waiting anxiously for her next installment in her fantasy series.

Print review, also shown on Amazon.

Link: Here


Definitely Fantastic

Alissa's Picks: Bookblog

I'm usually not so into fairy tales, but this book has me rethinking that prejudice of's a re-telling of the story of Sleeping Beauty, but told through the life of the prince--THE prince, the one who rescues Sleeping Beauty. And it's a YA novel--a genre that I love because it's almost a non-genre. The author did an amazing job of just telling her story, rather than telling it for a specific audience--because, after all, isn't that really the most important thing? It's what I look for, anyways--a kind of authenticity of approach that doesn't limit the author, and thereby creates a picture of the world that the reader can apply their own life to, and relate to in their own way.

That's how I felt about Thornspell. The story is definitely fantastic, with fairies (good and bad), shifting realities of real and unreal (that s comes up again and again), and, of course, a magical, powerful sword. But what's truly great about this book is that it's not ABOUT all those elements--they just happen to make the story more enjoyable to read. Check it out. You'll be surprised how much you like it, especially if you think you don't like fairy tales.



Highly Recommended

Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Have you ever wondered about the prince in Sleeping Beauty? Aside from the kiss, he doesn't get much time in the spotlight in the original fairytale. Helen Lowe makes up for that lack in Thornspell, which is essentially his story.

Prince Sigismund's family is reputed to be cursed, as few members live to reach their majority - his own mother was poisoned when he was young. With his father long gone, handling unrest in the south of the kingdom, Sigismund grows up at the West Castle, surrounded by a small retinue, wondering what it would be like to encounter dragons and go on a Grail quest. From his tower refuge he can see the nearby Wood, interdicted long ago by his great-grandfather.

After the dreams begin, Sigismund has his first encounter with the evil faie who calls herself the Margravine zu Malvolin, and also with a ragged, barefoot village girl named Rue (though no-one else seems able to see her). He's helped by a good faie, Syrica, who recounts a story of a princess (her goddaughter) 'cursed at her naming ceremony' and of a great hedge of thorns that grew around a palace sleeping for a hundred years.

Hearing of the misadventure with the Margravine, the absent king summons Balisan from the Paladinates to guard and teach his son. Sigismund continues to have adventures, both magical and mundane, slowly realizing that he is the one destined to rescue the sleeping princess and that powerful forces are ranged against him. The death of a friend grieves him but also increases his resolve to fight the Margravine, who has been responsible for the realm's unrest.

Sigismund learns to see and exploit lines of power, and to move between his own world and other dimensions (in which time flows differently). He's trapped by the Margravine, but escapes by calling on his own resources, along with a little help from a friend. The prince comes of age when he opposes his stern father to do what he knows is right and save the people he cares about. He wins a sword and ultimately wins the day.

I highly recommend Thornspell as an excellent retelling of Sleeping Beauty, that enriches the original by developing the characters (rather two dimensional and passive in the fairytale) of both the legendary prince and the princess.



Sleeping Beauty (with thorns) for Boys — an ancient tale cloaked in many guises Kids deserve to read great books and great books deserve to be read

Reviewed by Frances Maclean

In the tradition of all the best action/adventure stories Thornspell is an ancient tale cloaked in many guises—not unlike the blue bejeweled and bedazzling Margravine zu Malvolin herself, who mysteriously appears at the gates of the young prince Sigismund's sleepy castle, promptly greets him as a "chance-met stranger", and very soon suggests all that glitters may not be as good and golden as first appears. Based upon the tale of Sleeping Beauty which in turn was spun from threads of ancient Greek mythology, Thornspell offers the tale from the viewpoint of the chosen prince. Eager to shake himself free from the stifling protective bonds that accompany teenage crown princes in training (which include such weighty and tiresome duties as learning how to be responsible and mind the kingdom) Sigismund yearns to escape the watchful gaze of his royal custodians and seek out glorious and heroic battles like the chivalrous knights of old. Maybe then, he reasons he might prove himself to his distant father, the king, off busily and importantly fighting rebellions in the southern provinces.

When old rumors of a cursed castle within the heart of the forbidden wood resurface, the young prince finds himself strangely drawn towards the tale. "It would be good to know the truth of all those stories, and whether there really is a castle and who lives there" he tells the wise and shadowy Balisan, his newly appointed master-of-arms. "The truth", answers Balisan, "now that would be a powerful quest". The truth as it happens entangles painful memories of Sigismund's own mother's death many years earlier, and leads towards the very center of the mystery of the forbidden wood itself.

Sensing Sigismund's own life may be endangered, and at the king's behest, Balisan acts as protector and guide, and begins the slow process of teaching the restless and impatient prince how to harness the mind's hidden powers for his own self-defense.

Crackling with ancient earthly secrets the story takes on all the ingredients of a woodsy kind of Star Wars meets Lord of the Rings quest. There is the captive princess (asleep behind a prickly and formidable hedge of thorns); a thunderous boar hunt; some ghostly horseback riders, a magic ring of powerful persuasion; and an evil fairy intent on evil-doing.

Yet it is only when Sigismund finds the true courage to confront his dark and lonely journey that his path becomes clearer, and that he finds he is not alone. For as much as it is about battles and adventure Thornspell is also about storytelling. Just as in Sigismund's favorite story of the princess who saves herself from the dragon by captivating him with cleverly woven stories—every good modern prince likes a good modern princess who has the presence of mind to help herself out of a tight spot—a good story carries magical powers. It travels with us and shows us the world. As when Sigismund enquires of his worldly wise master-of-arms why he knows so much, Balisan replies simply, "I read books".



Destined To Become A Fairytale Classic

Book Your Imagination, Wednesday April 15, 2009

This is a wonderful book destined to become a fairytale classic. The entire story is told in close third person from Sigismund's point of view. We follow his life from around 12 years old through young adulthood, when he must face his own quest to save the princess in the castle hidden in the heart of the enchanted Wood.

The characters are colorful and the story suspenseful, with action and mystery throughout. I can easily see this book becoming a successful movie. If your taste in books includes fairytales, then this story is for you.



An Excellent Addition To Your Library Of Fairy Tale Retellings

Book Aunt, Sunday March 22, 2009

Fairy tale retellings are almost always done from the princess's point of view, so it's nice to read one from the prince's perspective. Offhand, the only other book I can think of with a similar point of view is Alex Flinn's Beastly, a modern-day retelling of "Beauty and the Beast." Of course, in the case of "Sleeping Beauty," the princess is out of commission for much of the story. Hence Thornspell, Helen Lowe's retelling of the rose-covered fairy tale about an eerie hundred-year enchantment.

As a boy, Prince Sigismund reads stories of Parsifal and the Grail quest and dreams of becoming a knight-errant. Raised quietly in a castle on the west edge of the kingdom while his father goes south to fight a war, he looks out over a forbidden forest, wondering about the legend of a hidden castle there. Eventually he comes under attack by an enchantress calling herself the Margravine zu Malvolin, who appears at the castle gate and tries to enlist Sigismund to her cause. The boy barely escapes and becomes very ill, but he is helped by shadowy figures who appear to wish him well. Sigismund also begins to dream of walking through the legendary castle in the wood.

In response to the near miss, the king sends Sigismund a bodyguard and trainer named Balisan. The man is mysterious and powerful, and he seems to know a lot about magic. He introduces Sigismund to the fairy who healed him, the Margravine's adversary.

In time, Sigismund journeys to the capital city and his father's castle. There he is befriended by a smiling youth named Flor who, if readers are paying the least bit of attention, will immediately strike them as the back-stabbing type. Malvolin's attempts to stop Sigismund from freeing the princess in the wood continue, but with the help of his allies and a magic sword, the prince ultimately triumphs.

Sigismund is such a likable boy, then hero, that I think you will enjoy spending time with him. The only thing I didn't love about this book is something I've seen popping up a lot lately, and that is an obsessive need to explain every little plot point and bit of magic in detail, dialoguing it to death. Really, as long as a story hangs together, long explanations and swathes of backstory are simply a distraction.  There's a Hercule-Poirot-gathering-everybody-in-the-library feeling to some of the discussions in this book, is all I'm saying. (Of course, J.K. Rowling did it for pages with her ghostly Dumbledore near the end of Book 7.)

I'll note that Balisan teaches Sigismund meditation practices to bring out his heritage of magical power. Again, I've seen this mixture of Eastern religion and European fairy tale magic in other fantasy I've read lately. Since our modern world is becoming a real cultural mix, I suppose such blendings are inevitable. I recently read a book where it was handled very badly, but Lowe manages to pull it off, mostly by making Balisan a magical figure from another land.

Quibbles aside, Helen Lowe's Thornspell is an excellent addition to your library of fairy tale retellings—my favorite subgenre. Girls who like fantasy and fairy tales will want to read this one. And, while it isn't a guy book the way the Alex Rider books are, boys who read fantasy should also like Thornspell, putting themselves in the place of good-hearted prince Sigismund as he struggles to defeat an old and evil adversary.

Kate Coombes



A thrilling read
Review provided as a courtesy of

Review written by: Kate Padilla
Reviewer's Rating:9.5
Reader's Rating: 10.00

A thrilling read.

Award-winning poet Helen Lowe’s first novel, Thornspell, is a poetically and dramatically rich fairy tale. Her magical suspense story parallels the German epic poem and opera, Parsifal, a man’s search for the Holy Grail, as well as the film, Sleeping Beauty. It is an imaginative story with distinctive and complex plots and extraordinary characters.

Sequestered within the castle walls for his own protection, young Prince Sigismund spends his time daydreaming about the enchanted world of King Arthur’s knights, unaware that soon he will embark on a quest of his own. As the prince approaches his 18th birthday, a carriage with the evil fairy (faie), Margravine zu Malvolin, arrives at the castle gates. She attempts to entrap the prince. This bold move prompts the King to assign Balistan, master-at-arms, to prepare his son for the inevitable. The prince discovers, with meditation and interpretation of dreams, his own magical powers.

The prince learns that Margravine placed an evil spell a hundred years ago on a kingdom in the Wood where a princess remains asleep. Sigismund, a true-blood prince, is the only one who can rescue the sleeping princess and her family. If Margravine can control Sigismund, she will have a power over both the fairy and mortal world. Sigismund goes against Margravine’s strong magic. He discovers his own strength, and with the help of a magic sword, Quickthorn (like King Arthur’s Excalibur), he is able to escape Margravine’s control and lift the spell.

Lowe suspends the reader’s reality and thrusts us into an imaginary world with vivid descriptions and lyrical language such as the final confrontation. Sigismund sees Margravine floating in the air, "her hair streaming out like a banner and billowing into the growing storm. Shadows flared on either side of her like the batwings he remembered, and the clouds rolled close, dark as nightfall with lightening at their heart."

This young readers book is a thrilling read. Like the story of Parsifal, it conveys messages of compassion and honor.



Sure to Please

The Children's Hour: Children's Book Reviews, Best of the Year, Middle Grades

Based on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, Helen Lowe has created a brave and courageous prince, who dreams of a forbidden wood, an enchanted castle, and a sleeping princess that is under an evil spell. Little does Prince Sigismund realize that he is part of the story, which begins in a remote kingdom where eleven-year-old Sigismund meets an unusual master-at-arms. Balisan is a teacher and mentor sent by the King to train and prepare him for a future quest–a quest involving a Hedge of Thorns, the evil fairy Margarine, a ragged and elusive girl, a sleeping kingdom, a priceless sword, and a special dragon. Through the years, Sigismund matures in wisdom and knowledge, and at eighteen he prepares for the final battle against evil, which he discovers can sometimes be hidden behind the mask of friendship. He not only rescues a kingdom and a princess, but also discovers a future beyond his wildest dreams. For those who love quests, magic spells, and enchantment, this tale is sure to please.



An Exciting Page Turner

Create Readers Blog

Reviewed by Beth

This is an interesting idea from New Zealand writer, Helen Lowe—she weaves a story around an already well-known fairy tale, but approaches it from a different direction.

Sigismund is a prince who is spending his childhood in a lonely castle. His mother died when he was very young and his father seems to be perpetually at war in the south, barely seeing his son. A mysterious forest, which no one has been allowed to visit for almost 100 years, sits to the west of the castle. There are many tales about an enchanted castle and a sleeping princess within the forest, but although some believe these fireside stories, many dismiss them as just fantasies.

After an incident with a magical unknown woman at the castle gate, his father sends an experienced and masterly tutor, Balisan, to oversee Sigismund's education—an education that encompasses meditation and magic as well as book-learning.

How is it possible for Sigismund to fulfil his destiny and overcome the powerful magic which has been placed upon the enchanted wood?

This is an exciting page-turner, especially for lovers of fantasy, and even for folk such as me who are not usually ardent fantasy fans. Despite guessing the possible outcome, given that we are all familiar with the fairy story, it is a charming, romantic and pleasing tale. And don't let "romantic" put the boys off. They will love it too.

The publisher's age recommendation is from 8 years old, but I think this is a little young—possibly from about 10 years and up.



Spectacular Recreation of Sleeping Beauty

Curled Up With a Good Kid's Book, 2009

Princess themes never seem to tire, and Sleeping Beauty is one that seems to shine brighter than others. Interestingly, unlike most renditions of any of the fabled princess tales in which the princess is the star protagonist, Thornspell actually brings to life the valiant prince destined to save the princess from her evil and powerful foe.

Crown prince Sigismund is kept hidden in a castle behind locked gates that appear to never open and surrounded by magical woods that no living soul dare enter. Many long years before his birth, an edict was passed down that no one was to enter those woods. Something mysterious is alive deep within them, and Sigismund often yearns to sneak into their shadowed depths and find out what is hidden inside them.

Not until an unexpected visitor passes by his outer gates does Sigismund's destined future began to reveal itself. She is the Margravine zu Malvolin, and her sights are on the castle within the woods where a certain young princess is nearing the end of her enchanted sleep - a sleep the Malvolin had intended to be a death nearly one hundred years ago.

Sigismund's meeting with Malvolin is the turning point in his youth. The King sends to him a distant relative named Balisan, a knight from the Paladinates and well-versed in knowledge, fighting, protection, and magic of the faie. Sigismund is destined to put an end to the enchanted sleep of the princess, and he will need protection as well as training.

As events begin to unfold, an unexpected twist finds a guest joining him on the journey: Syrica, the beautiful faie responsible for changing the spell of death into sleep. Only then does Sigismund's realization of the battle before him spins into a terrifying reality. Much more than a sleeping beauty and a castle in the woods are at stake. The well-matched powers and interconnected thread between the twin faie sisters may make their battle a knot of impossible outs. The survival of worlds and realms and lives may fall on the role Sigismund has yet to play and the strength he has among the woven faie spells.

Lowe does a spectacular job of re-creating a "Sleeping Beauty" tale actually worth investing the time and energy into reading. The dazzling plot, phenomenal characters, depth, and creativity keep readers intrigued from start to finish.  It's a shame there isn't another installment in the Sleeping Beauty classic. Perhaps our young readers will be lucky enough to have Lowe approach some of the other misguided fabled princess tales in the same manner.

Thornspell is for readers fond of fairies, princes, princesses, sword fights, castles, and magic.

—Sonia R. Polinsky



The "True" Story Behind the Fairytale
Review by Rebecca Fisher

***** Thornspell: "He Just Rode in with the Dawn . . . "

As much as I love reading fairytales, there's always the sense that I'm only getting half of the story. There's never any character development, explanations on where those magical artifacts come from, or why the bad guys act so villainous beyond the fairly rudimentary: "they're evil." In fairytales, things just happen, with little or no back-story.

Which is why I've always appreciated authors who consider the missing pieces to any fairytale and fill them accordingly with their own ideas. Donna Jo Napoli has built her career on this technique, with wonderful fleshed-out fairytales such as Spinners and Zel, retellings of the Rumplestiltskin and Rapunzel stories, among others.

And now Helen Lowe gives similar treatment to "The Sleeping Beauty," telling the tale through the point of view of the Prince. In the fairytale, the (often nameless) prince simply turns up at the end of the story to administer the life-giving kiss. Here, his name is Sigismund and he's got to work in order to deserve the princess awaiting him.

Young Prince Sigismund also loves fairytales and stories of enchantment, but never expects himself to be part of such a tale. Yet after a meeting with a strange and lovely lady at the castle gates, the arrival of a mysterious new master-at-arms, and a barrage of unusual dreams that haunt his sleep, Sigimund swiftly comes to the realization that he's a key player in a story that has been awaiting him for nearly one hundred years.

But the wicked faie who cast the spell in the first place is not going to be defeated so easily, and makes sure that Sigismund's quest isn't as simple as cutting through some wild thorns to reach the sleeping princess. Sigismund must first contend with her subterfuges and traps, all of which are carefully plotted in order to distract him from his task (and we finally get a better motivation for her actions than the usual "angry at not being invited to the party" excuse!).

Furthermore, Lowe finds a clever way to incorporate the princess into the plot of the story so that she is not simply the trophy-wife to be claimed at the conclusion of the story. Altogether, Thornspell manages to keep the basic plot-points of the original "Sleeping Beauty" fairytale intact whilst wrapping them in an entirely new perspective.

One thing that quickly became apparent when reading Thornspell is that nothing and nobody are what they seem, and there are plenty of twists, secrets and disguises to keep the reader guessing. Because there are so many dreams and visions that Sigismund experiences throughout the course of the book, it is sometimes difficult to tell what is actually happening, and what's going on inside his head—and yet this seems to be precisely the point, tying in with the theme of the mutability and changefulness of the old stories, and even the setting itself. Thornspell takes place in the distant past, filled with plenty of magic and other fantasy elements, and yet there is mention of historical and legendary figures like King Arthur and Emperor Charlemagne, creating an intriguing blend of fact and fiction that is very much in keeping with the tone of this particular story.

Thornspell is a fairytale, but it's also the "true" story behind the fairytale, and so there is the sense that this is the definitive version of how the original events played out, events which will inevitably change as time goes by into the story that we know today. —R.F.



Probably the Best Book I Have Gotten From Flamingnet!

FlamingNet Top Choice

Flamingnet Top Choice

Student Book Reviewer Cdi
Reviewer Age: 14
Reviewer City, State and Country: Gearhart, Oregon United States

Ever since he was little, Prince Sigismund has heard about the stories. Of dragons, giant snakes, fairies, and heroic quests that involve princesses being rescued. Could these stories actually be true? From the day a mysterious lady shows up at the castle gates and speaks to him, the young prince's world turns completely over. He dreams of a girl trapped in thorns, a palace waiting for something, and a man in red armor riding a red horse that suddenly turns up at his castle! Sigismund is about to learn whose real, whose fake, what's real, what's a dream, and what's a dream that becomes real.

This book was probably the best book I have gotten from Flamingnet! It was so descriptive. Basically, this book is a version of Sleeping Beauty. Sigismund is the type of character you instantly love and want for a big brother. There are good fairies and bad fairies. But the author is from New Zealand so they call them Faie or Faerie. It was a little confusing at first! I would recommend this book to anybody who loves adventure, romance, and mystery

Link: Here


My Daughter Couldn't Put It Down And Nor Could I

Review by Maria Gill

A forbidden wood, an enchanted castle, a sleeping princess...and the prince destined to break the spell.

Prince Sigismund has grown up hearing magical tales - they help to break up the monotony of his boring life in a castle where he longs for adventure. It is not until he dreams of a girl trapped in a thorny castle and a knight riding towards him that his life begins to change. He quickly learns that the stories are true, and the heroic quest he always wished for ... begins now.

I wasn't surprised that Helen Lowe had won an inaugural Robbie Burns National Poetry award (2003) - her writing is lyrical and a pleasure to read. I had to wait in line for this book - my daughter couldn't put it down and nor could I (when I finally got my hands on it). This is Lowe's first book and she has already been signed up for another series. She writes her poetry, short stories and novels in Christchurch in between practising her second-dan black belt in aikido and representing her university in fencing. Recommended for boys and girls 9-13 years old (boys don't be put off by fairies and princesses - there are some great combat scenes and its really about a boy on a quest).

Link: (6 December 2008)


Essential Reading

Kiss the Book: Book Reviews for Schools

Prince Sigismund has lived a very sheltered life and it is only when he is almost seduced away from safety by an evil creature that he finds out that it may be his destiny to save the princess in the thorn-covered castle. Sigismund works hard to learn what he must when the time comes. That short little explanation does not do this book justice. If you have ever wondered what happened to the heroic princes and whether they are really worthy of the princesses, Sigismund is the guy for you. If you have Rafe Martin's Birdwing, then you need this one too. If don't have them both, then you need to get them.  MS—ESSENTIAL



Fresh... I Can't Wait to Read More

Life of Katya Blogspot
Review by Katya

Ah, fairy tales. This book I picked up on a whim (okay, it was on display at the library, face-out, and the cover drew me in. And the title. And the description on the back..."A forbidden wood, an enchanted castle, a sleeping princess...and the prince destined to break the spell." Ooh!).

So, as you might guess, this is really the story of Sleeping Beauty - or rather, the prince who wakes her up. It begins well before he wakes her, and revolves around the efforts of his caretakers to keep him both alive and free from the control of Margravine zu Malvolin (pretty awesome name, btw). She's the evil witch (really of the Faie) who cast the original spell on Princess Aurora.

Anyway, this book is great. I loved every minute of it. The main character is both believable and flawed, brilliant and, at times, completely idiotic. In short, very human. He's surrounded by a cast of interesting characters, the most significant of which is Balisan, his master-at-arms, who teaches him everything a prince needs to know about defending himself - from understanding who your enemy's family is, to knowing how to swordfight. He's totally awesome.

Of course, fairy tales re-told can be awfully predictable - but this one is fresh and full of little details to keep the reader's interest. I can't wait to read more from this author (this is her first novel).



Interesting, Intelligent, and Full of Surprises


Four Fantasy Novels for the Fans of Fiction
Reviewed By Hollie Parry

A different twist on the well-know tale of Sleeping Beauty, this novel is written from the perspective of the Prince who must break the spell and free the Princess from her endless sleep. Prince Sigismund has known from the time he was young of the forbidden forest that borders his childhood home. He has heard stories of the mysteries contained in the woods and constantly wonders what lies within the dense, dark canopy of trees. One day, in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the world outside the castle walls, Sigismund has a chance encounter with a tantalizing, evil enchantress. While her effort to entice him to join in her evil plot is thwarted by a common servant girl, Sigismund suddenly finds his himself taken from the innocence of childhood to a world of magic, danger, visions and a pathway leading towards his ultimate destiny. Thornspell is interesting, intelligent, and full of surprises. This is a book that I also recommend for all teens.



Fantasy Lovers Will Not Be Disappointed

The Well-Read Child Blogspot
Review by Erica Moore

Prince Sigismund has lived in the small West Castle on the edge of his father's kingdom for many years. The castle, village and park are surrounded by a large wall and gate. Sigismund hasn't been allowed outside of the wall for a long time and he likes to dream about what lies beyond the gate and the silent forest that comes up to the western wall. The forest is forbidden and no one has been allowed to enter it for almost a 100 years, not since his great-grandfather placed an interdict forbidding anyone to go into the forest. No one remembers why exactly the forest is forbidden but there is a presence about the forest that makes people avoid it. No one would dare to enter it. There are many stories about the forest. One story tells of a kingdom in the middle of the forest and an enchanted sleeping princess under the spell of an evil fairy. Sigismund loves hearing these stories. Nothing exciting ever happens to him until one day he speaks to a mysterious lady through the castle gate and falls under a sleeping sickness only to be cured by another lady in his dreams. Afterwards, everything changes for Sigismund.

Helen Lowe has done a remarkable job in retelling and expanding the sleeping beauty fairytale. This tale focuses on the story of the prince chosen to awaken the princess and the danger and intrigue of the fairy realm when it plays in the mortal realm. Sigismund comes to realize he is the prince that must awaken the sleeping princess and put a stop to a fairy who wants to control both his kingdom and the one in the sleeping forest.

There is suspense, magic, betrayal and of course a dragon but you'll never guess who or what is the dragon. Well I didn't.  This book is full of surprises. I stayed up late reading it in one sitting. Fantasy lovers will not be disappointed. Pair this book with Robin McKinley's Beauty and Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley (Cinderella theme) for additional fairytales. I would expect to see this book on best book lists. Helen Lowe has won awards for her poetry and short stories. This is her first novel.



Compelling and the Story Moves, but...

The Puck in the Midden Book Log
Review by 'Nettle'

Growing up in West Castle, on the outer edge of his father's kingdom, Prince Sigismund has always dreamed of noble knights on valiant quests. He yearns to follow in their footsteps—even as he knows that he is destined to follow in his father's and rule the kingdom. And then Sigismund starts having the dreams. In his dreams, he is traversing the forbidden wood that lies on the edge of West Castle. In his dreams, he is exploring a castle where time seems to have stopped altogether. And he keeps seeing a girl—a girl bound by thorns.

Before long, Sigismund realizes that he has a part to play, a part in a story that is nearly a hundred years old—a legend about a curse and a sleeping princess. Sigismund will have the chance to realize all his dreams—but the forces against him are powerful and insidious, and he will have to use all of his courage to defeat them.

This is, obviously, a fairy tale retelling.  It's well-done—it recreates a compelling quest-style story that turns into the classic Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. It's an enjoyable read in the old, medieval-esque fantasy way, the kind with made-up kingdoms and heroic princes.

What it isn't is anything new. It doesn't bring a new element to the table at all. The thing about fairy tales that I find so compelling is that they always feel like we're  only getting the bare bones of the tale, and there's still so much missing from a full understanding of the story. Who the characters are, how they got there. How the fairy tale bones create a skeleton for a lush and fully-realized story.  That's what makes a fantastic fairy tale retelling--A Curse Dark as Gold is a classic example of that sort of thing. Something that takes the old story and makes it fresh and new and compelling, and still true to the old tale.

Thornspell is compelling, but it's not fresh and new. The writing is good, and the story moves, but it lacks teeth. It feels familiar, and that's sometimes comforting, but it's rarely memorable.  Read it if you like fairy tale retellings, but don't expect anything surprising.




SherMeree's Musings: On Being A Book Addict August 13, 2009

Prince Sigismund has grown up in a small, protected castle close to a forbidden wood, hearing stories about basilisks, dragons, enchantments and heroic quests. The prince believes his life will remain boring, but still he daydreams about exciting adventures and being a hero. One day a mysterious lady appears and speaks to him through the castle gates which leaves him very ill. He dreams of a mute servant girl trapped in thorns, and a palace still and quiet. He also dreams of a man in red armor riding a red a horse. A man in red armor with his red horse appear at the castle soon after the dream and he becomes Prince Sigismund teacher of swordplay. Prince Sigismund quickly learns that magic is real and adventures are just around the corner.

A delicious Sleeping Beauty tale told from the view point of the prince. The author filled in the basic story of Sleeping Beauty with some amazing characters and a story of war, betrayal, friendship, fairies, enchantments and royal intrigue. The Prince is a thoughtful (though he does not like to study/read) quiet young man with integrity and a strong will. And the princess ... well she is more than just a sleeping princess. The story moves along like life does - mostly calm with intense, heart- stopping events here and there. I loved this story and I look forward to other stories by Helen Lowe.



Breathtaking Journey
Sleeping Beauty Retold

YA Books Central; review by Kim Peterson

Once upon a time, a handsome prince rode to a thicket of thorns on his magnificent horse and woke Sleeping Beauty with a kiss. Books and movies tell Aurora's story, but little is chronicled of the prince who reached her side just in time to save her from an endless sleep. His mission was no easy task.

Young Prince Sigismund lives in a castle in the country while his father battles their enemies in the south. Bored, the prince often climbs to the top of his home and stares across the silent Wood stretching to the west. He daydreams of adventure, of roaming outside the confining castle walls. He longs to enter the looming forest though to do so has been forbidden nearly 100 years, since the days of his great-grandfather. Some say witches and faie and other magical creatures dwell among the trees, that a castle exists deep within the gloom.

One day fantasy draws him to the castle gates where he meets the Margravine zu Malvolin. After their encounter, Sigismund dreams of a girl enclosed by thorns and other baffling mysteries. When the man in red armor from his nightmares arrives at the castle, Sigismund discovers the legends and stories that fed his reveries are true. He begins a lengthy and heroic quest to rescue the girl of his dreams trapped by the Margravine and her warped magic. If the prince and his companions don't vanquish this evil fairy she will take over the human world.

Author Helen Lowe combines believable characters with the magic of fairy tale in a coming of age story. Prince Sigismund grows from a pining young boy to a man of destiny. This likeable hero and the princess he determines to save provide readers with a thread of romance, but the book abounds with adventure and battles. Readers already know the story ends happily ever after, but this version offers a fantastic and breathtaking journey to the castle in the woods and that magical, healing kiss.


Home Thornspell Home Page The Rose Vine