On the 3rd of July this year, Kate Forsyth’s latest historical novel, Beauty in Thorns will be released by Penguin Random House, and is being hailed as her best work yet. Beauty in Thorns is Kate’s fortieth novel, and centres on the Pre-Raphaelites, and the series of paintings that Edward Burne-Jones completed in 1890 that had been inspired by the fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty. Other inspirations for the story come from a Dante Gabriel Rosetti print that Kate found during her days as a student, and encouraging a passion for the Pre-Raphaelites, which is evident in Kate’s writing.
The influence of the Pre-Raphaelites is evidence in their style of art and fashion, the work of William Morris and Gabriel Rossetti and is still evident, celebrated and available today, inspiring artists and designers. The stories Kate writes are a tribute to this, and Beauty in Thorns will be no exception upon its release in a few months.
The lifestyle of the Pre-Raphaelites was unconventional for the Victorian England they lived in. Their lifestyle of drug taking, partying and husband swapping was a stark contrast to the mores and expectations of the time period, and the women – Lizzie Siddal, Jane Morris, Georgie MacDonald and Margaret Burne-Jones – eschewed Victorian expectations and did away with corsets, and embracing a bohemian lifestyle – which is what draws people to them now and what made them fascination in the Victorian period.
Kate’s story follows the four women listed above, and their association with William Morris and Rosetti, and how their experiences of being mothers, and losing children, being models and inspirations and having their own desires, formed who they were, and who they would become in history. Lizzie, Jane, Georgie and Margaret are the voices that tell the story, allowing love, desire, tragedy and betrayal, and the people behind the wives and the muses of the Pre-Raphaelite’s to be given a voice.
Kate Forsyth is an internationally recognised expert in the realm of fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, and it was a childhood illness that led to her fascination with fairy tales, and in particular, Sleeping Beauty and the themes of innocence and fear of death. Most of her books for adults and children incorporate either fairy tale elements or retell a specific fairy tale, such as The Singing, Springing Lark in The Beast’s Garden, which is my favourite. I enjoy Kate’s writing because she finds that nice balance with all her elements and the research makes the settings genuine, and moving. There are many books of hers that I enjoy, and each for different reasons.
I first came to Kate Forsyth’s writing through her first book, Dragonclaw, which celebrates its twentieth birthday this year. I still have my original set with the original covers on my shelves, and have plans to revisit the series. Dragonclaw is the first book in the six book Witches of Eileanan series, a tale of dark mysteries and dire mixed with dangerous quests, it follows Isabeau the Foundling, and her quest across Eileanan to save the children of Fairgean and stop the rise of the Ensorcellor, and also incorporates fairy tale themes.