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Stands An Old Tower


By T. Kingfisher 

28 Mar, 2024

Miscellaneous Reviews


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T. Kingfisher’s 2023 Thornhedge is a stand-alone fantasy novella.

A tower surrounded by thorns and brambles stands in an expanse of desolate former farmland. The fairy Toadling guards the tower. She dreads the day when a curious adventurer finally makes their way past the barriers.

One day, a curious adventurer makes his way past the barriers.

Toadling was born human, to the very lord and lady whose tower she guards. Malicious fairies kidnapped her as a baby, replacing her with the changeling Fayette. Her kidnappers didn’t want Toadling; their goal was to place the changeling. Toadling was abandoned to survive or not as fate decided. Fortunately for Toadling, she was adopted by doting, if alarming-looking, greenteeth.

Many human babies take well to life in Fairie. Toadling was one such who did. She might have lived her whole long life as one of the greenteeth. This was not to be. Instead, the hare goddess decreed that Toadling should return to the tower of her birth, there to deal with the matter of the changeling.

Thanks to the peculiar nature of time in Fairie, Fayette was still a baby when Toadling reappeared. An unfortunate slip of the tongue on Toadling’s part transformed what should have been a quick errand into a lifelong quest to prevent Fayette from doing harm.

Although she appears human, Fayette has the magic of her fairy birth parents. Too bad that she lacks empathy and amuses herself by causing pain. No living creature is safe near Fayette.

Toadling cannot think of a way to control Fayette, who will only become more powerful and more malicious with time. Toadling puts off the issue by casting the girl into a deep sleep. As long as no visitor disturbs Fayette, the world is safe.

Bookish minor knight Halim is intrigued by tales of a tower surrounded by thorns that holds a sleeping princess. He sets out to verify or disprove the legend. Halim will have his proof. Whether the world will survive his discovery is another matter.


This story is set two hundred years after the third Justinian Plague. I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I am not sure which plague counts as the third Justinian Plague. The first Justinian plague broke out in 541, followed by waves of bubonic plague until about 767. Pick a likely date for the third wave and add two hundred years.

While a tragedy for the world in general, the Justinian plagues were a boon to Toadling. She got an extra two hundred years to think of a solution to the Fayette problem. As one might expect, procrastination was not a solution.

While Fayette is a sociopath, incapable of understanding why other people’s distress should matter to her1, both Toadling and Halim are kindly, endearing sorts. Indeed, Halim is that rarest of adventurers, the sort that actually listens to and considers the advice he is given. It’s arguable that in this case, their essential kindness is an impediment, as it is what keeps Toadling from embracing the Scottish solution to dynastic complications and simply hucking infant Fayette out of a tower-top window2.

I read this book as a last-minute replacement for another work that I opened and found to be disappointing in uninteresting ways3. My choice turned out well! This novella skillfully fits quite a lot into a small number of words, while presenting the readers with characters about whom they will care. Because one cares, one keeps reading, hoping that the characters will manage to deal with a challenge that appears to be impossible to resolve happily.

I am never disappointed when I read Kingfisher books. I should read more of them.

Thornhedge is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Chapters-Indigo), and here (Words Worth Books).

1: Sociopathy seems to be inherent in her kind. This must have interesting implications for the likely lifespan of offspring. Perhaps the parents hire nannies. Of course, if the adults live for millennia, as they appear to do, one does not need all that many babies to maintain their numbers.

2: There is of course a tiny risk that defenestration would only anger Fayette, not kill her. Can’t know until you try!

3: No, I won’t tell you what work I noped out on, except to say that its flaws were ones I find boring to discuss.