Status: Complete, Word Count: 165,600, Pairing: None, Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
Read the Fic Here: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/3964606/1/Alexandra-Quick-and-the-Thorn-Circle
Listen to the Audiobook on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Sam Gabriel’s Website
Author’s Summary: The war against Voldemort never reached America, but all is not well there. When 11-year-old Alexandra Quick learns she is a witch, she is plunged into a world of prejudices, intrigue, and danger. Who wants Alexandra dead, and why?
Characterization: So the characters in this fic are really great. Inverarity has a tough job right from the beginning, because this fic is entirely made up of original characters. There is not a single character here who is even mentioned in the Harry Potter canon, so the writing here has to be really strong for these characters to be memorable. No piggybacking off of canon characterization or events, no forgettable characters allowed. In fact, when I look at Alexandra Quick, I normally judge the characters the way I would for an original novel, not a fanfiction, and I am happy to say that this fic’s writing fucking rises to meet (and eventually exceed) my admittedly high expectations. While this particular installment doesn’t do much in the way of fully fleshing out a few of the more minor characters, they are all at the very least memorable, and that is honestly not something I can say for many fanfics that do even when relying on canon characters. So let’s go through them, shall we? First off, we have Alexandra Quick and Anna Chu who are, essentially, this fic’s two main characters. Alexandra is fucking fantastic and has some of the strongest and most consistent characterization that I’ve ever seen. She is so stubborn, and such a little brat, but she’s also one of the most entertaining and likable characters I have ever had the pleasure of reading about. While obnoxious to many of the characters around her, her rashness, stubbornness, and occasional mild idiocy are incredibly charming to read about, and her arc is really well executed. It’s hard to explain exactly what her arc is, but if you compare the way she interacts with Brian at the beginning of the fic to the way she interacts with Anna at the end, it is clear that she goes through change and growth, and it’s very satisfying to read about. It’s also a nice mirror to Anna’s arc in this story. At the beginning of the story, she’s a very timid girl who has a strong focus for academics and a gift for avoiding conflict and trouble, because it’s what her parents expect from her, and by the end she’s….also different. It’s very difficult for me to discuss these character arcs, because they’re not as simple as each of them learning some important lesson and continuing on their way. They each change in subtle ways over the course of the story, while still maintaining the traits that define them, just altered in some subtle way. It’s a whole other level of character work. The kind of thing I can expect from actual novels, but that I almost never get in fanfiction. Hell, even some of my actual favorites like Prince of Slytherin aren’t capable of subtlety like this, and it’s an enormous breath of fresh air. So….of the characters who go through actual arcs in the story, that’s all there is to discuss, but there are also a fuck ton of other interesting characters who are all memorable, and I need to mention a few of my favorites. Constance and Forbearance are both fantastic. They don’t have much going on in book one, but there is stuff here that sets up arcs in later books, and their characters are generally very charming to read about. David’s also a really interesting character, and it’s interesting to see his take on house elves (which yeah, I’ll get to house elves later) and he’s also just….fun and memorable, and he also has some pretty interesting stuff go on in later books which is set up here. Darla and Angelique are both insanely obnoxious and stuck up and subtly prejudiced and I love them both so much. They’re basically Draco Malfoy is he was ever subtle or interesting. They’re so well done, and they also both have interesting shit going on in the later books which is set up here. Dean Grimm is an intimidating character, and I absolutely love how she functions within the story. She’s someone who we as the audience are inclined to dislike because Alexandra hates her, but it’s also hard to forget that she’s usually right, and we only side with Alexandra cause this is her story. Mr. Journey is also a really interesting guy, and he’s easily my favorite member of the staff in this book. Overall, I’m being a bit vague about both him and Dean Grimm because they both have spoilery plot stuff going on, but….yeah they’re both interesting. If I were to give a criticism, I think the the Charmbridge staff, with the exception of Dean Grimm and Mr. Journey, are all very forgettable. I don’t really dislike any of them, but I’m four books in and I still can’t remember who teaches History, so that’s a bit of a shame. However, overall, this fic’s characterization is memorable, interesting, and is great all around.
Action/Adventure: When it comes to the action and adventure aspects, I really like what is there, but there isn’t really all that much. This book focuses a lot on establishing characters and setting and all that, which is good. That is a good thing for a first book in a series to do, but that does mean that there’s less of this stuff than in the others that I’ve read. So this fic’s main plot focuses on the fact that someone is trying to murder Alexandra, so almost all of the action takes place during various murder attempts. From the scene with the Redcaps in the first chapter, all the way up to the ending, Alexandra is thrust into danger again and again, and she has to find engaging ways to get out of it. All these scenes are pretty good, but if I had to pick two, it would be the fic’s finale and all the stuff that happens in chapters one and two. I don’t want to get into too many spoilers, but the stuff at the beginning involves some magical critters near a pond, and it’s just a very fun, exciting way to start the story, and the stuff at the end is fantastic because Inverarity does a great job portraying Alexandra’s terror and fury at what’s happening to her. It’s really well written, the reveal plays into the action very well, and it comes to what I think is a very satisfying conclusion. Other than that, there are a few other very engaging sequences throughout the book, but none of them are memorable the way the aforementioned sequences are. I do, however, have to give credit for the scene with the cat, because that is very inspired.
Plot: First of all, I have to give Inverarity enormous credit for this fic’s world-building. While it still piggybacks off of a lot of canon’s core ideas, he does a fucking fantastic job creating a magical America from what is essentially the ground up. Sure, he has the foundations of canon in the magical creatures, spells, and wand-lore, and he uses those very well, but pretty much everything else is his own creation, and it’s insanely impressive. Magical America’s system of government makes sense and his just full of intrigue, all the different schools scattered around the country give it a very lived in feel, and he does a great job exploring various magical cultures. I personally enjoy the Ozarkers and the bits of their culture that we learn about in this book, but it’s all fascinating. I also need to give credit for how house elves are handled, because they are done better than they are in any other Harry Potter related story, including canon. You go through this whole book, and you’re still not really sure what to think about them. David’s perspective is completely reasonable and justified, but Alexandra’s observations also appear to be valid as well. Even though I have my own opinions about house elves, they are a part of canon, and they are handled here about as well as I think is possible. Finally, blood purism is just handled better here than it is in canon. It’s more nuanced, it’s less exaggerated, and while there are still characters like Larry Albo who are very Draco Malfoyish in their characterizations, there are also perfectly likable characters who are clearly prejudiced and even bigoted at times without even realizing it. Darla and Angelique are probably the best example of this, but it’s true for a lot of the teachers too. Alright, so with that out of the way, let’s talk about the actual plot. It’s honestly fantastic. It’s a fun mystery from beginning to end with intrigue and twists and turns, and red herrings, and all the typical stuff you’d expect from a mystery fantasy story. I honestly don’t have any criticism for it, except to say that it’s just not gripping. With most of the stories of this caliber, I begin reading and I get to a point where I cannot put it down, and this fic never reaches that point. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it whenever I picked it up, but for this kind of fic to get a perfect plot score, it needs to go that extra mile. I honestly don’t know why this is the case, but I suspect it’s the amount of worldbuilding that needs to go on to establish the world. There are points where everything feels a bit info-dumpy, and while it’s definitely better than canon, there are moments where the exposition style gets a bit grating. However, I am being a nit-picky dick, because I do really enjoy the plot overall.
Dialogue: Overall, the dialogue is really well done, and I enjoy it quite a bit. It has a really neat vibe to it, and it manages to do a lot of different things. It can be very funny, it can add genuine dramatic tension to a scene, and it can also be used to reenforce pretty much any tone a scene is going for very effectively. However, the thing I love the most about the dialogue is how easy it is to differentiate between characters without dialogue tags, because everyone talks in very distinct ways. Constance and Forbearance have very different speech patterns than David does, who is in turn distinct from Anna, who is distinct from Alexandra. Alexandra in particular is such a stylized character. She’s so endearingly petulant and spiteful in a lot of her scenes, but when she shows emotion, oh boy does it hit. Dean Grimm’s dialogue is also delightful. I adore the way she’s written with her whole “fucking terrifying school principal” persona, but I also love how it’s very clear that she cares about her school and the safety and wellbeing of everyone in it. It’s very impressive that all of this is conveyed through just her dialogue, but it is and it’s great. She’s also just so gloriously different than Dumbledore, which is an absolutely crucial thing to do in a fic like this, because then the “these characters are just canon ripoffs” door is firmly closed. Anyway, great dialogue, I love it, well done Inverarity.
Writing Mechanics: So here’s the thing. I have read enough of the series to know that it is very mechanically sound in terms of grammar, sentence structure, spelling, etc. However, I also haven’t actually read very much of it, because the way I read this series is by listening to the audiobook. Therefore, I cannot really comment on whether or not the mechanics are good or not, so every one of these sections will just have one or two sentences basically saying “it’s good” and moving on.
Alexandra Quick and the Audiobook Project: Read by Sam Gabriel: Some of you who read my reviews regularly know that I gave bonus points for the Emily oneshots, because I really respected the authors who decided to pitch in to help her out. I am going to do something similar here, but also a bit different. Instead of giving out officially recognized bonus points that have the potential to cause the fic to bump up a tier, I will instead include a section in each review mentioning the audiobook, and make a note at the end if I think listening to the audiobook changed my opinion of the fic enough to bump it up a score. I think Sam’s audiobook’s deserve that recognition, because they are legitimately fantastic, well acted, dynamic, and fun audiobooks that are an absolute joy to listen to.
Overall: In my opinion, Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle is probably the weakest story in the series, and oh boy does that say something about this series’ quality. My main issue is that, while this fic is really fucking great, it never really grabs me until the very end. I took a long time to really get invested into it, and that holds it back a bit, especially compared to the other books in this series. However, I really don’t want to understate how great this book is, because it’s still very good. It has an interesting plot, great twists, awesome characters, some pretty unique world building, and it’s a very fun read. This is all made even better by Sam Gabriel’s fantastic audiobook which just brings this story to fucking life. So….yeah, this fic is great and it earns its spot in the top tier.
Final Thoughts: I don’t care who you are or what you normally prefer, I consider this entire series to be an absolute must read, and if you do audiobooks, then that will just make you enjoy the fic all the more.
Tier: Top Tier, Crusade-Worthy if you factor the audiobook into the verdict.
Written on 05/20/2021