Gina Chen’s 2022 Violet Made of Thorns is a secondary-world fantasy novel.
Gifted with the ability to see the future, Violet parlayed her ability into enhanced social status by rescuing Auveny’s Prince Cyrus from certain death. The former street urchin became first a Seer in training, then (on the death of her predecessor, Sighted Mistress Felicita), Court Seer for the Kingdom of Auveny. It’s all luxurious towers, comfy pillows, and bonbons for Violet from now on.
A perfect life — except for the politics.
And except for the certain doom bearing down on the kingdom and on Violet.
Only after being named as Seer and thus entangled in court politics did Violet discover that she didn’t really care for Cyrus. Too bad for her, because not only must she frequently deal with him now, when his ailing father dies, she will be his employee. That is, if he doesn’t fire her. He has already distanced himself from her.
Not that her current employer, King Emilius, is such a great boss. While the king values the Seer’s services, he insists that her public announcements bow to political necessities. Violet’s prophecies have a tincture of truth, but for the most part predict the futures that the king desires.
What the king doesn’t desire: information about a doom that looms over the kingdom. Sighted Mistress Felicita’s last words were, to quote,
“The land will bloom red with blood and roses and war. The prince — his heart will be damnation or salvation. His choice may save us all. His bride — it is up to her! A curse, a curse accursed curse — gods, be wary — ”
Like so many prophecies, this one doesn’t clearly spell out what must be done to avert disaster. However, it suggests that the prince must marry the right woman … whoever she is.
Cyrus is not inclined to marry. This must be fixed. Cyrus is sent off on a grand tour, from which he is to return with a bride. He returns, but without the promised fiancée. King Emilius intervenes: if Cyrus won’t choose, he can marry the bride his father has chosen. Raya’s family and faction make her the perfect bride, at least from a political viewpoint. What the king doesn’t take into account is that Raya brings with her an entourage of fairies, a strong hint that she’s something more than a normal human. Or perhaps not even a human.
And then there’s the little matter of the price that Violet must pay for saving the prince seven years earlier….
The prose is functional but it has its From Elfland to Poughkeepsie aspects.
As is typical for rom-coms, the book makes it clear that the hostility between Violet and Cyrus is due in part to denied attraction. Will the book end with a happy couple? Not telling; that would be a spoiler.
Readers may wonder how Violet manages to reconcile the prophecies she is told to deliver with the actual outcomes she foresees. The answer is judicious phrasing. She always expresses herself with enough ambiguity that later she will be able to explain away any difference between the future she predicted and the future that arrived. While this maneuvering is not completely honest, Violet comes from abject poverty. That can teach one to be open-minded when necessary. Although the King is just as open-minded so perhaps background isn’t the deciding factor…
While Auveny is literally a fairy-tale kingdom, Violet Made of Thorns’ political setting isn’t. The king might prefer to be an absolute monarch but he has to keep his council happy, lest the dukes rebel. He is also limited by the need to keep peace with neighboring nations . Not all of those nations are monarchies; Auveny’s neighbor and rival Balica is a republic.
I enjoy stories of people trying to evade prophecies; making the lead the seer whose visions reveal the future narrows the focus nicely. The romance didn’t do much for me, but readers may enjoy that aspect more than I did. If nothing else, watching people try to do what so many before them failed to do is entertaining.
1: The kingdom might enrich itself by despoiling a local fairy wood, but the other nations see this as an environmental catastrophe worth opposing.