Alone in the world, Asher Todd travels to the remote estate of Morwood Grange to become governess to three small children. Her sole possessions comprise a sea chest and a large carpet bag she hangs onto for dear life. She finds a fine old home, its inhabitants proud of their lineage and impeccable reputation, and a small village nearby. It seems an untroubled existence, yet there are portraits missing from the walls, locked rooms, and names excised from the family tree inscribed in the bible. In short order, the children adore her, she becomes indispensible to their father Luther in his laboratory, and her potions are able to restore the sight of granddame Leonora. Soon Asher fits in as if she’s always been there, but there are creatures that stalk the woods at night, spectres haunt the halls, and Asher is not as much a stranger to the Morwoods as it might at first appear.
Publication details: 28 June 2022, by Titan Books
The Path of Thorns is a standalone book in Slatter’s Sourdough universe, a secondary world rather reminiscent of early Victorian England, where wise women are good for all kinds of interventions, be it a potion, or a story. I still haven’t read all of the Sourdough stories – a fact I need to remedy – but I loved Slatter’s last novel in this world, All the Murmuring Bones, and so have been looking forward to this book immensely.
And it didn’t disappoint in the slightest.
The Path of Thorns tells us the story of Asher Todd, a governess who has worked her way into the household of a manor lord, in order to seek vengeance on behalf of her mother, who was wronged in ways that are slowly revealed over the course of the novel. Atmosphere is where Slatter excels, and this book was excellent in that regard; there is a cold, damp and foreboding feeling that settles over the entire novel. The plot largely sticks to a lot of the hallmarks of gothic literature – misty moors, and a ghost in the locked spare bedroom – but it was much darker in tone than I was anticipating, and I was genuinely surprised by the lengths Asher was willing to go in pursuit of justice.
Because frankly, this is not a happy book. It made me angry, it made me sad, it made me feel frustrated and so, so tired of sexism and all the injustices, little and small, that eat away at women in our society on a daily basis. Yet, it’s also cathartic; Asher Todd is downtrodden, bitter, and a victim of her own delusional attempts to cling to what little scraps of affection she’s given, lest they slip away. But her deep rage somehow manifests itself as compassion for those who suffer under the same patriarchal systems, and a dogged determination to help others find peace. There’s also a sense of righteousness in watching Asher take down those whose only intent is to do harm along the way.
I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re looking for a lighthearted read, but if you’re looking for something to absorb – or possibly magnify – your rage at the world for a few hours, The Path of Thorns absolutely fits the bill.