Palo Alto author Ava Reid delves into the darker side of the Brothers Grimm in her new gothic horror novel, “Juniper & Thorn.”
Published on June 21, the novel is a full gloss on “The Juniper Tree,” a short story by the Grimms, in which an evil stepmother and sister-in-law kill the prince of the kingdom and feed him to his father, the king. .
The original folk tale is a far cry from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” packs a gruesome punch despite its brevity.
Born in New York, Reid, 26, grew up in Hoboken and has always been an avid reader. Reached by phone, Reid said, “I was the kid who sat in the playground and read while all the other kids were playing on the swings or the jungle gym.”
Enrolled at Barnard College, where she studied political science, focusing on religion and ethnonationalism, she moved to California when her partner started a doctoral program at Stanford, where they reside in student housing.
Reid said, “(Palo Alto) was never a place I expected to end up living, but it pushed me a lot.”
Reid’s first job when he arrived in Palo Alto was in an “AI robotics start-up, which is probably the most ‘Palo Alto job’ I could have had. It was a very interesting way to get immediately immersed in Silicon Valley culture, but I quit that job when I sold my (first) book. Now I’m lucky enough to be able to write full-time.”
After graduating from Barnard, Reid signed on to “Pitch Wars,” a program that matches aspiring writers with published authors who agree to mentor them and pitch them to agents. Reid entered the program and eventually sold her first novel, “The Wolf and the Woodcutter,” a tale inspired by her undergraduate studies of Hungarian history and current politics, particularly the recent re-emergence of Hungarian nationalism. far right.
With his maternal family made up of Ukrainian Jews, Reid wanted to place his second novel very precisely in Odessa and sweep away certain clichés about Eastern Europe.
“I wanted to give an image of Eastern Europe that was urban, that wasn’t stuck in this vaguely medieval past, that was modernizing, that was diverse – because that’s my family’s story. “
Set in Oblya, a magical analogue of Odessa, “Juniper & Thorn” tells the story of three witch sisters who live under the rule of their tyrannical and ruthless father, the last wizard remaining in the city. A man of monstrous appetites, Zmiy Vashchenko keeps his daughters under his control in their ruined house, their only contact with the outside world being the clients who come to the house to help them cast minor spells. Ondine, the eldest, sees the future in a pool of divination, while Rosenrot cures minor illnesses with the herbs she grows.
The youngest daughter and protagonist of the novel, Marlinchen can read people’s fortunes by touching their skin, and she receives the harshest treatment from Zmiy. She has to feed her father because he stuffs his face all day. To disappoint him is to trigger an onslaught of physical and emotional abuse.
Marlinchen would probably be a sidekick in another book. Reid said, “She’s not particularly physically attractive. She’s not sneaky or clever. Her method of survival is total obedience. I don’t necessarily see that type of character much in fantasy, and I wanted to trying to write from this character’s point of view – the anti-Disney princess, in a way.”
According to Reid, “The Juniper Tree” has a sort of legendary status as the Grimms’ darkest fairy tale.
“What’s horrifying about it is the intimacy of the violence. To have this boy killed and eaten by his own family is very disturbing. It’s a really intimate, domestic story about, essentially, violence and domestic violence. He has no anger. queens and quests and wizards and witches. It’s just this very human story. Once I come to that conclusion, then the idea of re-telling it as a gothic horror story made a lot of sense to me.
One night, Marlinchen’s sisters trick her into sneaking out and accompanying them to the ballet. There, she meets lead dancer Savas and develops a powerful crush on him.
The attraction is mutual, but Savas is in some ways as traumatized as Marlinchen. The two embark on a passionate and very dangerous romance. The danger grows from inside the toxic house of Marlinchen and from outside on the streets of Oblya, where other monsters await the unwary. Soon, the girl will be forced to test the limits of her own magical powers.
The narrative of “Juniper & Thorn” evolves at a deliberately measured pace, Reid said. “It’s intentional, because her life is so repetitive. You see her doing the same things over and over and over again because that’s just her reality.”
The pace picks up as Marlinchen and Savas explore love, lust and passion.
“To me,” Reid said, “the romance feels very pure and beautiful, but it’s also naturally tainted by these past experiences of abuse and trauma. I was really interested in writing a story where two very traumatized characters could find each other, might find a way to make their relationship something loving and healing.”
Next up for Reid is “A Study in Drowning,” a young adult novel about literary conspiracy theories. Due for release in September 2023, the book follows an architecture student as she wins a competition to design her favorite author’s family mansion and finds herself in a remote, crumbling estate filled with disturbing secrets.
So far, disturbing secrets are Reid’s business. His books are thought-provoking, but those who enjoy a clever mix of history, fantasy, and horror will likely enjoy “Juniper & Thorn” and his other works.