Published: July 19, 2016
Read as: Owned hardcover
Average Goodreads rating: 3.83
My rating: 3.5 (rounded to 4)
Nestled within Paris’s historic Palais Royal is a jewelry store unlike any other. La Fantasie Russie is owned by Pavel Orloff, protégé to the famous Faberge, and is known by the city’s fashion elite as the place to find the rarest of gemstones and the most unique designs. But war has transformed Paris from a city of style and romance to a place of fear and mourning. In the summer of 1918, places where lovers used to walk, widows now wander alone.
So it is from La Fantasie Russie’s workshop that young, ambitious Opaline Duplessi now spends her time making trench watches for soldiers at the front, as well as mourning jewelry for the mothers, wives, and lovers of those who have fallen. People say that Opaline’s creations are magical. But magic is a word Opaline would rather not use. The concept is too closely associated with her mother Sandrine, who practices the dark arts passed down from their ancestor La Lune, one of sixteenth century Paris’s most famous courtesans.
But Opaline does have a rare gift even she can’t deny, a form of lithomancy that allows her to translate the energy emanating from stones. Certain gemstones, combined with a personal item, such as a lock of hair, enable her to receive messages from beyond the grave. In her mind, she is no mystic, but merely a messenger, giving voice to soldiers who died before they were able to properly express themselves to loved ones. Until one day, one of these fallen soldiers communicates a message—directly to her.
So begins a dangerous journey that will take Opaline into the darkest corners of wartime Paris and across the English Channel, where the exiled Romanov dowager empress is waiting to discover the fate of her family. (from Goodreads)
“Art frees us from our prejudices and gives us the chance to become our best selves, individuals who dare to dream. And even if those dreams aren’t always as pretty as we’d like, or don’t conform, or frighten us, it is our duty to encourage art to flourish. All art. Every kind.”
I first picked up one of M.J. Rose’s historical fiction novels back in 2015, not really knowing what I was getting into. But I was drawn to her stories, her characters, and quickly fell in love with her writing. There is something about them that just pulls me in and makes me feel, even if just for a little while, that I am living the characters lives and sharing their experiences. I’ve found that to be a rare thing in books. So often I enjoy the story but purely from the observers point of view. When a story is so engrossing that you feel like you are in it? That, my friends, is magic.
In The Secret Language of Thorns we follow Opaline, a talented jeweler, living and working in Paris during the first World War. That era is typically not my cup of tea when it comes to historical fiction but for M.J. Rose I will always make the exception. Opaline has a gift, or a curse as she sometimes sees it. She can speak to and hear the dead. During the war, she uses her gifts to create pendants for those grieving over loved ones who have died in the war and passes on any last messages from those souls to their living loved one.
One day, she is asked to make a pendant and speak to a dead soldier by his mother. What happens then she never expected. Usually the soldiers pass on a brief message, some final comfort to give peace to the grieving. This time, the voice stays with her, has entire conversations with her, and even after passing on a message to his mother he remains in Opaline’s mind. What is Opaline to do but fall unwillingly in love with this spectre?
Tied into to Opaline’s conversations with the departed is a story about the Bolsheviks, family drama, bombing attacks on Paris that have to be navigated by the characters, and how magical Rose makes the jewelry making in this book. It is not something I’ve ever had particular interest in but she makes it seem wondrous.
While I loved about 3/4 of this book there was also a mystery subplot that didn’t hold my attention. I thought that it was too simple to figure out the villain and that the action attached to it was a little lifeless.
Overall, this was a highly enjoyable read and if you enjoy historical fiction with a bit of magic thrown into the mix with a touch of the mysterious then I definitely recommend reading this series.