Winterling by Sarah Prineas

Winterling, by Sarah Prineas, was published in 2012 by Harper.

With her boundless curiosity and wild spirit, Fer has always felt that she doesn’t belong. Not when the forest is calling to her, when the rush of wind through branches feels more real than school or the quiet farms near her house. Then she saves an injured creature—he looks like a boy, but he’s really something else. He knows who Fer truly is, and incites her through the Way, a passage to a strange, dangerous land. Fer feels an instant attachment to this realm, where magic is real and oaths forge bonds stronger than iron. But a powerful huntress named the Mór rules here, and Fer can sense that the land is perilously out of balance. Fer must unlock the secrets about the parents she never knew and claim her true place before the worlds on both sides of the Way descend into endless winter.

Rating: 2/5

I kind of have this love-hate relationship with Sarah Prineas. On the one hand, I love her Magic Thief series. On the other hand, her fairy-tale retellings (like Ash & Bramble) have been somewhat disappointing. Winterling falls a little bit in the middle for me, or perhaps, if you go by the rating that I gave it, much further away from even Ash & Bramble.

One reason is that I’m simply not a fan of the genre of this novel. I don’t like reading fantasies involving fairies, or animal-human hybrids/melds/whatever, or really any sort of “portal” fantasy involving fairy-type lands. That’s part of the reason I had difficulty really enjoying The Evil Wizard Smallbone, because of the human-animal transformations going on. I can’t really say why I dislike this genre. I just don’t like it.

(Mild spoilers follow)

I’m also not a fan of the protagonist-type that Fer is. Fer does some really dumb things in this novel, and the dumbest ones are when she knows that the Mór is evil and is planning evil things, yet somehow thinks going along with her is a good idea. Part of that is the magic talking, but there’s a part towards the end when Fer has more or less thrown off the glamorie and still thinks, “Well, you know, I need to bring back the spring and the Mór says doing this will bring back the spring, so I should do what she says,” despite the fact that she knows the Mór is not helping things at all. Then we get this tiresome hunt scene (which is immediately followed by two others) only for Fer to figure out what she’s known all along.

Fer also makes some astounding leaps of logic, like when she reads her father’s letter again and goes from that to immediately knowing that the Mór is a usurper. That whole “revelation” paragraph was written so clumsily that I had to read it multiple times just to try and follow Fer’s logic (which was really her realizing what the reader has known all along, but with a rather impressive logical assumption that doesn’t seem to follow from what she knows).

Basically, I didn’t really like Fer in general. I rarely like female protagonists of her sort. Perhaps they’re perfect for younger readers, but I find them annoying.

There’s also no explanation as to where Grand-Jane got all her knowledge of the other world from. Presumably her son, I suppose, though it’s poorly explained if so.

To be honest, the whole reason I didn’t really enjoy Winterling is probably because of Fer. I simply found her irritating. That, and I don’t particularly like this genre of fantasy. I like Prineas as an author, but this trilogy of hers is definitely not for me.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“The Way is open,” he said. He meant it as a warning.

The old woman blinked, and then scowled. “You must close it again.”

He shrugged, feeling the sharp ache of the wolf bites. “I can’t.” He nodded at the girl, still kneeling on the rug. “It opened for her, not for me,” he said. “You know as well as I do what she is.”

You can buy this book here:

Rose & Thorn by Sarah Prineas

Rose & Thorn, by Sarah Prineas, was published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster. It is the sequel to Ash & Bramble.

After the spell protecting her is destroyed, Rose seeks safety in the world outside the valley she had called home. She’s been kept hidden all her life to delay the three curses she was born with—curses that will put her into her own fairy tale and a century-long slumber. Accompanied by the handsome and mysterious Watcher, Griff, and his witty and warmhearted partner, Quirk, Rose tries to escape from the ties that bind her to her story. But will the path they take lead them to freedom, or will it bring them straight into the fairy tale they are trying to avoid?

Rating: 4/5

Rose & Thorn is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, though perhaps it’s more accurate to say it’s a reimaging. Rose & Thorn is a sequel of sorts to Ash & Bramble, which set up the idea of Story forcing people to fulfill fairy tales over and over. So, the main goal of the characters is to not have the original fairy tale happen, so things go a little differently than one might expect (although saying that may be spoilery, but oh well).

It’s a beautiful retelling of Sleeping Beauty, a fairy tale I don’t actually much like, and there’s loads of originality throughout. Rose is a great protagonist, the type of female protagonist I like. She’s not all gung-ho, “I can do everything cool and awesome” warrior-esque, which can get so tiring and boring. She’s much quieter and understated, which I prefer.

The romance was a little boring, but I find most romances boring in YA since it’s so clearly designed to appeal to teenagers. Griff as a character, at least, was interesting, although I thought the ending was a little rushed—it was believable, but definitely could have been more so in terms of his change.

The main problem of Rose & Thorn, and of Prineas’s fairytale retellings in general, is the concept of Story as this malevolent force that constrains people to its will somehow (through a Godmother, but then at the end it’s revealed it can act on its own, so why does it need a Godmother?) and forces them into fairy tales over and over. But not all stories are Story, only some—if they’re “your own stories,” whatever that is (seemingly the one you want). What if the story you want is the same one that Story wants? Anyway, it’s a little hard to swallow and several times it seems a little forced in the story, as if Prineas also realizes that an idea like Story is hard to convey or accept as realistic.

However, despite the problems of its underlying concept, Rose & Thorn is an imaginative, fresh retelling of Sleeping Beauty with memorable characters (even if you haven’t read Ash & Bramble) and an interesting protagonist, and carries enough appeal to make me want to keep reading Prineas’s fairy tale retellings.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Young Adult

“Ohhhh,” I breathed. This was the Forest. It had offered the clearing as a baited trap, I realized, and it had reached out to take me as I slept. Merry had told me that the Forest was evil, and maybe I should’ve been frightened, but I suddenly felt excited. Ready to go where the Forest led me.

It was, I realized, my story beginning. “Once upon a time…,” I whispered to myself.

I ate a quick bite of breakfast, rebraided my hair, washed my face in the stream—which hadn’t disappeared, like the road—put on my cloak, slung my knapsack over my shoulders, and, ready to start, turned in a slow circle, looking for a way through the trees.

“Once upon a time,” I repeated, “there was a girl who was searching for a path through an enchanted forest.”

You can buy this book here:

Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas

Ash & Bramble, by Sarah Prineas, was published in 2015 by HarperTeen.

A prince. A ball. A glass slipper left behind at the stroke of midnight. The tale is told and retold, twisted and tweaked, snipped and stretched, as it leads to happily ever after. But it is not the true Story. A dark fortress. A past forgotten. A life of servitude. No one has ever broken free of the Godmother’s terrible stone prison until a girl named Pin attempts a breathless, daring escape. But she discovers that what seems like freedom is a prison of another kind, one that entangles her in a story that leads to a prince, a kiss, and a clock striking midnight. To unravel herself from this new life, Pin must choose between a prince and another—the one who helped her before and who would give his life for her. Torn, the only thing for her to do is trade in the glass slipper for a sword and find her own destiny.

Ash & Bramble is strange, but it’s a wonderfully unique, refreshing fairy tale retelling. In fact, Prineas creates a world where all the villain does is recreate fairy tales, with as many retellings as a rebellious people attempting to overthrow a powerful force can manage. And yes, it does start out strange, but once Pin gets to the city and begins her “Cinderella story,” things get less strange and more interesting.

However, I would have liked the book better if it didn’t have the awful “girl falls in love with first boy she meets” plot as well as the “girl is obviously someone important, probably the person or relative of the person who tried to thwart the villain” plot. Pin and Shoe’s romance begins impossibly fast and mostly consists of “oh man his hands are so warm I love him.” The fact that he’s also the only male around at first makes it worse. And Pin is obviously Super Special and so the story is not really about “ordinary girl breaks out of unwanted fairy tale” but about “magical girl breaks out of unwanted fairy tale because she’s magical and can do that.” It’s lessened slightly because of Shoe, who is not magical and yet does some storybreaking of his own, but I wish Pin had been some average, ordinary girl rather than who she turned out to be.

Kudos to Prineas, who succeeded in making Ash & Bramble a refreshing retelling of Cinderella, and a refreshing fairy tale retelling in general, despite its initial strangeness and the awkwardness of switching points of view every chapter. However, the romance and some of the plot archetypes irritated me, to the point where I can neither A+, two-thumbs-up recommend the book nor tell you to stay away from it.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fairy Tale, Fantasy, Young Adult

“What is that?” Shoe asks at my shoulder.

With anyone else, I would hide it, but for him I open my hand; the thimble gleams silver on my palm.
“It’s from the Before,” I whisper.

His eyes widen as he stares down at it; then he looks soberly at me, and I feel as if I could fall into his green eyes, into the promise of the forest outside. My knees wobble and I clench my hand around the thimble. He takes my arms, steadying me, and for just a moment my faint flame kindles to his; between us, the thimble burns with a sudden flash of light that leaks from between my fingers. Suddenly I can feel how strange the thimble is—its power, its potential.

He closes his hand over mine. “Keep it hidden,” he says, his voice ragged.

You can buy this book here: Ash & Bramble

The Magic Thief: Home by Sarah Prineas

The Magic Thief: Home, by Sarah Prineas, was published in 2014 by Henry Holt. It is the sequel to The Magic Thief: Found.

Conn has come a long way since the days when he was a thief and a wizard’s apprentice. He and the dragon Pip have saved the city of Wellmet from doom more than once, and now his best friend, Duchess Rowan, wants to make him the ducal magister, the city’s most important wizard. But the older wizards don’t trust Conn…especially now that their locus magicalicus stones are disappearing! Once a thief, always a thief, they think. To solve the mystery of the disappearing stones, Conn goes back to his beginnings—gutterboy, chimney sweep, mudlark, and, yes, thief. It’s the only way he can clear his name and find the culprit. But turning back is not easy, and old enemies don’t disappear. Can Conn pull himself out of the gutter one more time?

My favorite part of Home didn’t actually take place in the book, but in the little notes at the end. Conn’s treatise on dragons and then his notes to Rowan about the menu had me cracking up. Conn is such a fun protagonist and the notes in the back and the ones scattered throughout the book really do a lot to enhance his personality even more (and those of the characters he interacts with).

I also love Nevery and Conn’s relationship and its development over the four books. By the time you get to this one, Nevery’s “I love you like a son” (not his exact words, but it’s what he meant) moment is so fulfilling and heartwarming, especially after the events in Found. I love moments like that as you might know if you read my review of Jinx, which has a similar trope.

Although I thought the return of one of the first book’s villains was odd and felt a teensy bit recycled, I did enjoy the way it bookended the series and made it come full circle. I especially enjoyed Conn’s development in Home as he discovers his place in society and finds his, well, home.

I still think this series has a few flaws (such as the way the city and the world feel empty except for the named characters, the clumsy names like “Academicos” and “locus magicalicus,” the sudden appearance of Benet/Kerrn and Embre/Rowan, and the flatness of secondary characters like Rowan), but I fully admit that I can’t expect middle grave novels to do what I expect young adult novels to do, so as a middle grade series, The Magic Thief is top-notch.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“You have to be more careful,” she said.

“I am careful.”

She gave me an exasperated look. “Conn, today you tricked your guard and went into the Twilight alone, where you apparently did a magical spell that left you smelling like smoke. You are not careful.” She folded her arms. “You are the ducal magister now. You simply must learn to act like it.”

Overall Review:

The Magic Thief: Home is a fulfilling end to the Magic Thief series, with the same fun and the same sophistication (in most respects) that drew me in when I read the first book, and the added bonus of culmination of character development and relationships. I personally have a few minor issues with the series as a whole, but overall these are all delightful books, and this one especially had me rolling with laughter at the end.

You can buy this here: The Magic Thief: Home

The Magic Thief: Found by Sarah Prineas

The Magic Thief: Found, by Sarah Prineas, was published in 2010 by HarperCollins. It is the sequel to The Magic Thief: Lost.

Sneaking out of prison isn’t easy, unless you are a thief, or a wizard. Luckily, Conn is both! Trouble is, once he’s out, where does he go? His home is a pile of rubble since he blew it up doing magic. His master, the wizard Nevery, is not happy with him. Worst of all, Conn’s been exiled, and staying in the city will mean his death. But Wellmet is in danger from an evil predator coming to destroy the city, and Conn must set off on a quest to fight it. Suddenly, a huge shadow looms over him and he is swept away by something more awesome than his wildest imaginings. Is Conn brave enough to answer magic’s call, or is he really just a thief at heart?

We don’t see so much of the world in Found as we see worldbuilding. Conn does travel, again, but the place he goes is devoid of humans, making Prineas’s world still seem as if Wellmet and the people in it are the only ones who live there. I do love the world of The Magic Thief, but I wish it didn’t seem so empty.

I do, however, love all the revelations in this book about the dragons, and I’m glad that Conn has finally found his locus stone, even though it again shows how Super Special he is. But Prineas has done a good job with Conn’s character and personality and showing that when Conn does something, he does it big, so of course his locus stone would also be beyond the norm.

I still love the relationship between Nevery and Conn, and Nevery’s “I miss him” about killed me when I read it. Also, Conn thinking his name is “Boy” when he has amnesia (thank goodness Prineas did not drag that out) is so endearing.

I was confused, though, as to why Arhionvar, after striving to obtain a city, was satisfied with what Conn gave it. Perhaps it was just that it was tied to the city, instead of just occupying it superficially? I admit, the concept is interesting, but I thought it was a little anticlimactic. And I thought the river-as-slowsilver came a little out of nowhere, but perhaps I am merely forgetting something from the first book. Also, I have no idea how Prineas is going to continue the plot in the last book. This one wraps up everything and has a nice ending, so I’m confused as to how the next book will go.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

It was as if the sun had fallen down from the sky. The spell-line keened a high song. The dragon was as big as a house, with red-gold, liquid-looking scales covering its broad back and muscled legs and tail, smoothing out over tis chest and belly. Its head was mostly muzzle and long teeth; it had horns and a spiked crest that ran in a double row down its back to the end of its tail, which ended in a bristle of spikes.

It folded its golden wings and turned its head, glaring around the clearing with flame-bright eyes.

Overall Review:

The Magic Thief: Found doesn’t do much to make the world seem less empty, but it does do well in terms of worldbuilding and establishing exactly how the magic works (and what the magic is). I adore the relationships in this book, and Conn himself is an endearing protagonist, but I did think the ending was a little confusing and anticlimactic. Also, what in the world will the last book be about…?

You can buy this here: The Magic Thief: Found

The Magic Thief: Lost by Sarah Prineas

The Magic Thief: Lost, by Sarah Prineas, was published in 2009 by HarperCollins. It is the sequel to The Magic Thief.

Conn may only be a wizard’s apprentice, but even he knows it’s dangerous to play with fire…especially around magic. His master, Nevery, warns him that it could all blow up in his face. Besides, they have bigger problems to deal with. There is evil afoot in the city of Wellmet, an evil that isn’t human. But Conn is drawn to the murmurs he hears every time he sets off an explosion—something is trying to talk to him, to warn him. When none of the wizards listen, Conn takes matters into his own hands. His quest to protect everything he loves brings him face-to-face with a powerful sorcerer-king and a treachery beyond even his vivid imagination.

I’m glad that The Magic Thief: Lost expands on the world Prineas has built. When I read The Magic Thief, I thought the setting was a bit…lonely. The fact that Nevery was returning from exile was puzzling to me, since I couldn’t imagine anything beyond the city of Wellmet. In Lost, Prineas answers the question of “From where did Nevery return?” that I had while reading the first book and expands the world beyond just Wellmet. I do wish she had at least hinted at something bigger in The Magic Thief. I mean, the concept of exile implies that there is something beyond, but I didn’t get that in that book. But I do get it here, and I’m glad, because I love the world of these books.

I’m not a fan of impulsive protagonists who don’t listen to those wiser than them, but Conn manages to remain likeable despite his stupid actions. And, really, he does only do one stupid thing, and then is so contrite and guilty about it afterwards—yet still determined to see through what caused him to do that stupid action—that I felt with him, rather than having that situation alienate me from him. Also, that action led directly to the expansion of the world, so I can’t really complain.

I do wish that we had found out more about why Conn is so unique of a wizard and why he can feel the magic of the world and such. There doesn’t seem to be any explanation beyond “the magic chose him” and if that’s the only explanation we get, I will be disappointed.

I loved the little notes and letters that allowed us to catch a glimpse of what the other characters were thinking, and I love the inclusion of the recipes in the back.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

As I straightened up, I heard a whisper of wind sliding over the cobblestones. A black rag of shadow hurtled past me; I ducked and turned, water from the bucket slopping down my leg, and saw the bird from the tree, claws out, flapping in the face of a piece of night darker than dark.

It wasn’t a man at all, just a man-shaped shadow, swirling and ink black. Where its head would be was a glow of an eye—one blazing eye like a purple-black flame, staring at me.

A Shadow!

Overall Review:

The Magic Thief: Lost expands more on the world of The Magic Thief and takes us beyond the walls of Wellmet, something I thought the first book was missing. Conn is as great of a protagonist as he was in the first book, and his relationship with Nevery is one of my favorite parts of the book. I hope that we get a better explanation for Conn’s specialness eventually, but for now, this series is almost perfect.

You can buy this here: The Magic Thief: Lost

The Magic Thief: A Good Plot With Lots And Lots Of Heartwarming Moments

The Magic Thief is written by Sarah Prineas. It was published in 2008 by HarperCollins. It is the first book in the Magic Thief series.


“Conn should have dropped dead the day he picked Nevery’s pocket and stole the wizard’s locus magicalicus, a stone used to focus magic and work spells. But for some reason he did not. Astonished and intrigued, Nevery agrees to take Conn on as his apprentice, on the condition that the boy find a locus stone of his own within a month.

But with his wizard lessons and helping Nevery discover who—or what—is stealing the city of Wellmet’s magic, time is running out of Conn to find his stone.”


The Magic Thief reminds me of a cross between Jinx and Septimus Heape, which means that it is awesome. It’s such a cute book (and yes, “cute” is high praise from me. I like cute) and I absolutely love the “Gruff Man Takes Young Boy/Girl In As Apprentice” trope, because it inevitably leads to FEELS and hearts melting and wonderful father/son-type relationships.

It’s hard to pull off, but the “newcomer stumbles across new/correct way of understanding things” is done really well here. Conn is unique and obviously magically talented, of course, so that trope is not surprising, but Prineas incorporates it in a charming way, and it’s more understated than usual probably because Conn himself is a bit understated in manner.

Also, when Conn makes biscuits and their consistency is “like an egg. Hard and crusty on the outside, soft and runny on the inside,” and then he thinks “Not bad!” and you can just feel his excitement…I just about died with laughter. That’s just one example of the sly humor that Prineas weaves into the text. Another is when Conn gets turned into a cat and then stalks and pounces on Nevery’s foot.

My one negative on this book is that I feel that the magic is a little too generic. I also think “locus magicalicus” is a really clumsy name. “Keystone” and “locus stone” are much better.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade


My balance felt so sure; I couldn’t fall if I tried. I leaped around the room, testing. It was the tail! It kept me perfectly balanced at all times. What fun! I practiced prowling, making no sound. My black fur blended easily into the shadows at the edges of the room.

Oh, what a wonderful thief a cat would make!

I made another whirlwind tour of the room.

At the table, Nevery slammed down the book he had been reading. “Perish it, boy, can’t you keep still?”

I crouched down on my haunches and stalked his foot. Pounce!

~Prineas 78

Overall Review:

The Magic Thief is an awesomely cute and funny story, and it has a recommendation by Diana Wynne Jones on the back cover so of course it’s good. I thought the magic elements were too generic, but Conn was a great protagonist and his relationship with Nevery is utterly heartwarming (and cute!).

You can buy this here: The Magic Thief