(Dauntless Path #1)

by Intisar Khanani

Trigger Warning: There’s onscreen fade-to-black and offscreen beatings and sexual abuse (only referred to after the fact) in this book.

This must have have hit just the sweet spot for folktale retellings tinged with some heavy emotional work related to abuse I didn’t know I was craving.

And there isn’t even enough romance in this to do its usual lure of tempting me to keep reading late into the night– and I read it in one night anyway. (Shannon Hale’s Goose Girl has the romance and a younger YA innocence, this has the heavy moral quandaries about how to define punishment and justice, and what it means to an abused person to have enough value to be defended)

Alyrra is an overlooked princess with only horses, servants and the Wind as friends who seizes on a chance to leave an abusive situation by agreeing to marry a foreign prince sight unseen. She travels to her new city to meet her betrothed, only something happens on the journey to force her into the role of the king’s goose girl. She finds acceptance amongst the other servants…and danger.

I considered 4 stars for this review at first. There’s so much going on here that is never fully explored or realized. There’s the mysterious Red Hawke who gives Alyrra-goosegirl-Thorn a brutal justice despite his outlaw status, there’s the untapped pain of the Lady’s fae magic and her willingness to hurt innocents on her own quest for vengeance, and there’s the people of her adopted city who are experiencing violence and violation. Not to mention the fate of Falada (her special horse friend). Sigh.

None of these situations get resolved, although Alyrra figures out her identity problem and what to do with the prince.

And yet, I can’t deny the emotional impact or the pure transparency of the writing that swept me along with Alyrra/Thorn’s story. It is a story of a quiet honesty (Alyrra/Thorn is almost hobbit-like in her ability to appreciate honest labor, a safe place, and basking in the regard of friends) that wins out over other political machinations. Its about Thorn realizing she is worthy of love and finding folks who will protect her, and figuring out who she herself can protect in turn. I guess I love stories where groups of friend rush around trying to protect a main character who doesn’t understand they are worthy of love.

A beautiful retelling with themes I think important for YA folks, but some of the abuse and Falada’s fate is a bit much for younger or middle YA. There’s a short story about one of the side characters at the end of this edition, and another short story about events prior to Thorn floating around out there, but this book definitely felt like a first in a series, and I can’t find reference to further books that would resolve the situations mentioned above. Which is too bad!