Review: Briar Rose by Jana Oliver

Briar Rose believes in fairy tales. And now, because of a family curse, she’s living one. Doomed to fall asleep for one hundred years on her sixteenth birthday, Briar has woken up cold, alone and in the darkest, most twisted fairy tale she could ever have dreamed of – miles away from the safe, boring small-town life that she has left behind. 

Briar must fight her way out of the story, but she can’t do it alone. She had always believed in handsome princes, and now she’s met one, her only chance is to put her life in his hands, or there will be no happy ever after and no waking up. 

4.5 Stars

Briar Rose is a sexy, dark retelling of Sleeping Beauty with an antebellum twist. Brimming with metallic beasts, monstrous tyrants, fairy-like creatures and a magical curse, Briar Rose takes everything you think you know about the classic tale before tuning it on its head. Okay, Briar Rose isn’t exactly award winning literature. The characters lack depth, the dialogue is iffy but, for what it’s worth, Briar Rose is an engaging adventure and the perfect guilty pleasure sure to cure any slump.

Set in a fictional, but conservative town in the Deep South, Briar Rose tells the story of Briar, a teenaged girl living underneath a family curse. Doomed to fall asleep on her sixteenth birthday, Briar finds herself trapped in a fractured fairy tale – weaved from her very own vivid imagination. With the help of a mysterious stable hand [who has an agenda of his own] Briar must fight her way out of the story. But the curse has a power of its own and getting home is easier said than done. It’s going to take some witchy magic, a fool’s bargain and a desperate quest – and that’s if she doesn’t lose her head first…

Princess Aurora GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

What I love the most about Jana Oliver’s retelling is its Gone with the Wind vibe and steampunk twist. Jana explores the Deep South’s conservative culture with both the Civil War and the history of old root magic. And while we only spend a little time in the fictional town of Bliss, Jana evokes the sense of a sleepy little town dripping with Southern charm.

But like I said, we only spend a little time in Bliss. Before we’ve found our footing we’re swept up in the curse and into the world of Sleeping Beauty. Although this tale is closer to that of the Brothers Grimm than the whimsy of Walt Disney’s, complete with an evil regent.

I’m not going to lie to you, its Jana’s world building and the incredible concept of her plot that really steals the limelight. The medieval fantasy world is fully-fleshed and it practically envelopes you in its gothic spell – you can actually smell the reek of unwashed bodies and feel the cobblestoned pavement underfoot.

Spinning Her GIF | Gfycat

The plot itself is also rather involved. I mean, there’s a lot going on okay? There’s the family feud and the mystery surrounding the whole curse. The characters learn the price of practicing Hoodoo, a dangerous bargain is struck – and that’s all before we even find ourselves trapped in the curse. Once we are the plot only thickens. New characters are introduced and familiar characters turn up in unexpected places as Briar works to break the curse, free the princess Aurora and liberate the townsfolk. Like I said – it’s involved.

But that’s what makes Briar Rose so much fun. It’s a sweeping adventure of epic proportions.

My one complaint is the fact that I found the characters to be pretty one dimensional. And while it didn’t stop me from fully enjoying Jana’s gritty, complex world, I just feel that Briar Rose could have been a real contender in mainstream fantasy if the characters, and the dialogue, took itself a little more seriously.

fic: sleeping beauty | Tumblr

And I couldn’t help but feel that the romance lacked the proper amount of tension and conflict. All I’m going to say is that the chips fell into place a little too easily for my liking. But, what are you gonna do? I was still here for it.

Also, a quick shout out to Ruric, the rugged, heroic “stable hand” who unapologetically stole my heart. Honestly, I could have read an entire book about Ruric. Someone make this happen.

Anyway, even if the characters felt some-what shallow, there’s just something about Briar Rose that keeps you completely invested. Like good trashy TV, Briar Rose has just the right amount of action and intrigue to keep those pages turning. It’s dark, it’s sexy and I could just live in the pages of this fantasy adventure forever. My number one go-to guilty pleasure, Briar Rose might have some mixed reviews but it will always hold a special place in my soul – the perfect book to binge during self isolation.


12 thoughts on “Review: Briar Rose by Jana Oliver

  1. This sounds like such an entertaining read! I gravitate more towards plot-driven stories rather than character-driven ones, so it’s okay with me if the characters are somewhat shallow (as long as the plot makes up for it!). Definitely going to add this one to my TBR! Wonderful review! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Me too – if a plot is super immersive with lots of action I can forgive a bland character. I actually think you’ll love this one. It’s super fun and I LIVED for the gritty vibe of the dream world. It really comes alive! It’s also a book that doesn’t require too much concentration – it’s all adventure so the pages just fly by! I’d love to hear what you think when you pick it up. We can swoon over Ruric together! 😉 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

    ( sorry for that keyboard smash but HOLY FREAKING MOLY YAY! )
    I found this book in bargain book a few years ago and loved the freaking hell out of it! I’ve probably read it four or five times. Unfortunately I gave my copy to a friend to borrow and then he moved and I told him to keep it, and I just never found another copy. You reminded me of how much I loved this book and how amazing the entire plot and atmosphere is, and I have added it to my Book Depository basket right this very minute (desperate times call for desperate measures, I can’t find it anywhere here. One day I will actually check out all the books in my basket)
    – Emma 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hold up – YOU’VE read Briar Rose too???

      I 100% understand your keyboard smash because I’m feeling the EXACT same way. I mean, holy heck! NO ONE’s read this book – now we can rave and gush and scream together! WHO HOO! 🙌

      It’s actually so good – I’ve lost count of my reads because I picked up Briar Rose in Big W like waaaaay before goodreads. I’m guessing third? Maybe fourth reread?

      And please tell me I’m not alone in my Ruric shipping ways? Like come on – boy is swoony! I could take or leave Joshua but man was I 100% onboard with Ruric. I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me secretly hoping that Briar would stay in the curse and live happily ever after with Ruric. I’m still salty we didn’t get a companion novel that picks up with Ruric and Aurora ruling the kingdom!

      So glad we have the same bookish taste eczema sister! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Damn, she got stuck in a curse weaved from her own imagination? I best be careful of what I’m daydreaming of then 😂 I can’t say I’m a MAJOR fan of retellings (unless it’s a Mulan retelling), and I do prefer character driven books as opposed to plot driven ones, but I did really enjoy reading your review!! 😍 Seriously, your breakdown of the pros & cons of each book is just STELLAR 😍

    💛💛💛 Forever, your saltmate

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh stop – you’re making me blush! 😍😍😍

      This one is 100% a guilty pleasure, train read but it’s still so much fun??? I think because I’ve never read a Sleeping Beauty retelling before [Why is it that Beauty and the Beast always holds the monopoly on retellings???] and the twist is so unique. BUT YES – MULAN RETELLINGS ARE WHERE IT’S AT!!! [I’m still anxiously awaiting the new live action movie].

      Thank you for reading and your lovely comment as always!
      Forever your saltmate too 💙💙💙

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s so true, Beauty & the Beast retellings are so ubiquitous – where are the Cinderella ones? The Rapunzel ones? GIVE ME A CONTEMPORARY VERSION OF TANGLED PLS & THANK YOU 😍

        Oh god me too! I’m just PRAYING that it will be good! Especially after all the controversy surrounding it at the beginning of production! 🙈

        💛 always, your saltmate

        Liked by 1 person

        • Right??? Give me a Pocahontas retelling! Or another Little Mermaid retellings! Actually – just give me all the retellings! But honestly, a contemporary version of Tangled??? HOLY HECK YES! Actually, with all the negativity in the world, I’ve been bingeing Tangled the Series on Disney+ and have realized that Flynn is so underrated as a Disney Prince. Flynn, Eric and John Smith are honestly #goals. 😍😍😍

          Much love always, your saltmate 💙💙💙

          Liked by 1 person

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