A Liar by Any Other Name (Violet Made of Thorns – Gina Chen): ARC Review

Darcy & Lizzy

Violet Made of Thorns, Gina Chen
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Fairy Tales
Publisher
: Delacorte Press
Length: 368 pages
Contains: some language, mentions of abuse, violence, self-harm, body horror, suggestive material, LGBT side characters
My rating: 4.5 stars
Summary:
Violet is a prophet and a liar, influencing the royal court with her cleverly phrased—and not always true—divinations. Honesty is for suckers, like the oh-so-not charming Prince Cyrus, who plans to strip Violet of her official role once he’s crowned at the end of the summer—unless Violet does something about it.

But when the king asks her to falsely prophesy Cyrus’s love story for an upcoming ball, Violet awakens a dreaded curse, one that will end in either damnation or salvation for the kingdom—all depending on the prince’s choice of future bride. Violet faces her own choice: Seize an opportunity to gain control of her own destiny, no matter the cost, or give in to the ill-fated attraction that’s growing between her and Cyrus.

Violet’s wits may protect her in the cutthroat court, but they can’t change her fate. And as the boundary between hatred and love grows ever thinner with the prince, Violet must untangle a wicked web of deceit in order to save herself and the kingdom—or doom them all.


I think I’ve been screaming about Violet Made of Thorns since it was announced but almost missed the fact that today is the day Gina Chen’s debut makes its way out into the world! I’ve been working on this review on and off since November but decided I had to bang out the rest of it today. I actually had a mini-review written when I was still a giant ball of feelings that I’ve included if you want a TL;DR version, but I had so many thoughts I had to give you guys a verbose version too.

I may or may not have ordered two more special editions of VMoT after preordering the B&N exclusive 😶, but if you want to buy a copy while supporting local bookstores and the reading habits of yours truly, I have a handy dandy affiliate link.

A quick note that even though it’s marketed as YA, Violet Made of Thorns is a darker fantasy with some content that pushes it more towards the New Adult side of the spectrum. (Full content warnings can be found on the author’s website)

I received an early digital galley from Delacorte Press in exchange for an honest review.


Original Review

I’ve been waiting for Gina Chen’s debut since I read her short story in 2019 and became low-key obsessed with her ever since. When she messaged me about the timeline for the release of eARCs, she said something along the lines of “VMoT is a pretty different kind of story from Fools, but I hope you still like it,” and I kinda laughed and was like uh, I don’t think that’ll be a problem because fairytale-inspired stories are kind of my thing. Then I actually read her debut and laughed even harder because Violet Made of Thorns could not be any further up my alley if it tried. It’s like Gina Chen decided to write a fairy tale-inspire story tailor-made for me.

I was ridiculously excited a copy of VMoT showed up in my inbox. I purposely waited until I had a free day before opening it up and you guys, I INHALED this book. It has everything I could want in a fairytale–clever nods to originals, prickly heroines, angsty romance (or “childhood it’s complicated-to-it’s still complicated,”) and banter. Lots of banter. I wanted to text scream the whole time I was reading it but was way too invested in the story to pick up my phone. I was literally on the second page when I wrote “already loving this character and gorgeous Gina prose” and was too engrossed to take any kind of notes that weren’t gibberish after that. I seriously had so much fun reading Violet Made of Thorns and will write a long, rambling review to describe the many feelings I have about the book once I can express them in a semi-coherent manner.

Get ready for lots of screaming.

(As a disclaimer, I don’t think VMoT actually ended on a cliffhanger, but I was screaming the whole time because I LOVE THIS BOOK.)

Full Review

It’s been about half a year since I first read VMoT, and I just finished rereading it for Stan Asian Authors 2022 so here is my attempt to corral my thoughts into a relatively readable review:

This book is a fairy tale for those who choose head over heart every time. It’s a story about stories and how they shape history and divinity. It’s a story about love and the ways it saves us–or doesn’t.

But mostly, it’s a story about Violet.

I wrote Violet for anyone who feels they only relate to the “unrelatable” characters—the ones who are too cold, too proud, too much and not enough at the same time. Neither brave hero nor glamorous villain, she is her own contrary character: a prickly girl carving a place for herself in a world she doesn’t believe in, two feet on the ground while she looks toward the sky. Neither brave hero nor glamorous villain, she is her own contrary character: a prickly girl carving a place for herself in a world she doesn’t believe in, two feet on the ground while she looks towards the sky.

Gina Chen, Violet Made of Thorns Author’s Note

We can’t talk about Violet Made of Thorns without talking about its eponymous character. Violet is the fairy tale heroine(?) I never knew I wanted, but she’s exactly what I love in a protagonist—sometimes sassy, sometimes snarky, always sharp. Last year, I realized the reason I like the grumpy x sunshine trope so much is because I might be a grump (I definitely am,) so when I read about all these starry-eyed princesses or Strong Female Protagonists, I’m like that’s nice but I can’t really relate. And it can get kind of boring after a while.

Violet is anything but boring.

She’s blunt and irreverent and not very nice, but she’s certainly not boring.

She’s prickly.

Acerbic.

Cunning.

She’s Not Like Other Girls™ in YA Fantasy. She doesn’t waltz through life all doe-eyed and sweet, and she doesn’t barrel her way through life set on revenge and revolution. She’s just a scrappy young orphan scamming her way around a court in a country that barely tolerates her and is fiercely and unapologetically loyal to herself and only herself.

So it’s true, Violet is Not Like Other Fictional Girls, but she sure is like the rest of us: messy, flawed, human.

I don’t file away Violet’s sharp edges. I shine the brightest spotlight on them.

I love Violet as a character. She’s definitely not a role model and probably not even someone you’d want to be friends with, but Gina tells us that before the story even begins. As a person, she’s not that great. She’s selfish and surly. She’s brusque and brash, and there’s a bitter edge to everything she says. She makes some questionable decisions and is so bent on surviving she won’t allow herself the luxury of softening her rough edges to win the affection of others. So yeah, as a person, she’s not the greatest. But as a protagonist, she’s interesting and complex and compelling. The story doesn’t shy away from her flaws and neither does Violet. She’s a flawed character who knows she’s flawed which is a refreshing reprieve from all the other heroines in YA fantasy. I personally like characters who are a little rough around the edges, so I loved Violet in all her prickly splendor.

As for the fairytale aspect, Gina absolutely nails it. She very explicitly tells us it’s not a retelling, but there are so many clever nods to the original stories we all know and love. As someone who loves fairy tales and clever things, I thought it was the perfect combination of originality and nostalgia. It’s not a book to read if you’re looking for hardcore fairytale vibes, but the overall tone captures the spirit and mood of the original stories (think less magical mouse and more German siblings.) I personally think subtly is criminally underrated in the YA world and love how Gina snuck in nods to the original tales. She just weaves fairytale elements into the story so skillfully. I love it so much. I was seriously squealing so much every time I caught a fairytale reference.

As much as I love VMoT (and I do, a lot,) I have to point out a few aspects of the story that I think are less than stellar. I’m not sure if I was too busy speeding through the story that I missed things, but the worldbuilding left me a bit confused. After two read-throughs, I still don’t really understand the role of magic in the world. The Fates are kind of introduced but never expounded on. Granted, they’re mystery to Violet, too, but there’s just something about the world and its magic that feels incomplete rather than mysterious.

My other complaint is that the romance escalated way too quickly for me. As someone who’s both a (secret) hopeless romantic and a skeptical cynic, I love the way Violet and Cyrus’ dynamic started out. Childhood friends-to-rivals-to-lovers is quite possibly my favorite trope of all time (thank you L. M. Montgomery,) but Violet and Cyrus go from being at each other’s throats to shoving their tongues down each other’s throat real fast. I was willing to roll with it initially. Like okay, you’ve got all this tension built up and just realized that maybe all the antagonism between you and the other person is actually poorly disguised passion, not hate. But then it gets a little insta-lusty which is really not my thing. I wish the “it’s-still-complicated” piece were explored and developed more, but it was really more of a no-strings-attached, love-hate situation. I wanted more messy moments and less kissy time. or at the very least more messiness before getting back to the kissing.

Princess Bride GIF:
Sorry Gina

I do hope we get to see a whole lot more of Cyrus in the sequel because he has the potential to be a really interesting character, and I feel like we’re just starting to scratch the surface with him when we reach the end of Violet.

“Violet’s journey is not very pretty sometimes, kind of messy all of the time, but hopeful despite it all.”

Still, in spite of these quibbles, Violet Made of Thorns is an absolutely enchanting read. It has everything I want from a fantasy and reads like a brand-new fairy tale. I’m so happy Gina Chen’s debut is part of a duology because that means more Violet! I can’t get enough of this book and can’t wait to see what’s Gina has in store for us in book 2.

Give me more masked masquerades with gorgeous gowns. Give me beasts and briars and even some blood. Give me princes and paupers and prickly prophetess who don’t know when to shut up. I want it all!


If you think Violet Made of Thorn’s release means I’ll finally shut up about it, I regret to inform you that I’m part of Turn the Page Tour’s VMoT Mega Tour. My stop is next week and may or may not feature something that rhymes with winter-view 👀 Stay tuned if you’re interested, and if not, I’m sorry in advance 🤷🏻‍♀️

12 comments

  1. OK BUT CAN WE PLEASE TALK (read: SCREAM) ABOUT HOW YOUR REVIEWS ARE THE MOST STUNNING THINGS IN EXISTENCE AND I AM SLIGHTLY HOPELESSLY OBSESSED WITH THEM???? i love the way you describe THE CHARACTERS, OK?? LIKE, I MAY HAVE FALLEN IN LOVE WITH VIOLET JUST BY READING YOUR REVIEW,, but she seriously sounds PHENOMENAL and i cant wait to meet her?? ALSO, THE BOOK!! i’ve been intrigued since a long time BECAUSE THE COVER IS GORGEOUS and a lot of my friends have loved it, BUT YOUR REVIEW POSSIBLY CHANGES THINGS. I’M SLIGHTLY DESPERATE AND POSSIBLY RUNNING TO GET MY HANDS ON A COPY SO THANK YOU SO MUCH THE REVIEW IS PERFECTION AND I LOVE

    Liked by 2 people

  2. She’s certainly very acerbic which I understand and love! I just started and at each other’s throat bickering and banter to lovers is very fun when the tension is subtle and drawn out to right to that perfect breaking point!

    Lovely review! And I as always love the title!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. AAHHH!!! I adored your review. You nailed Violet perfectly as the “not like other fictional girls” but like us, regular people. The romance was both sudden and not. I think Violet’s admission was the most surprising despite noting how good looking Cyrus is. Cyrus’s attraction to Violet was not so sudden to me…or maybe I had just been anticipating it. LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  4. i absolutely LOVE this review veronica 🥺❤️ i’ve been desperate to read your full thoughts on this book for so long after seeing you rave about it in your other posts and it was so worth the wait!! i’m super excited to pick it up for myself and fall in love with violet 🥰

    Liked by 1 person

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