Thornyhold by Mary Stewart

First off I want to take a moment to *gush* about Mary Stewart. She is amazing. I’ve been reading a lot about her the past few months here and here and here. I felt immediately sure that I would like her novels, but I didn’t know how smitten I would be. Her writing is dreamy and evocative and her main characters are sensible and likeable. And there is the supernatural! I don’t know if all of her novels contain otherworldly elements, but this one and the one I am reading now, Touch Not the Cat, definitely do and I like it.

Thornyhold reminded me in some ways of Practical Magic, Garden Spells and The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. There were elements of all these books drifting through Thornyhold, but Stewart has such a charming, unique style that I didn’t feel like I was entering “been there/done that” territory. Plus, Stewart came first!

Geillis (Jilly) Ramsey has had a tough life. Her parents are not affectionate, won’t let her have pets (which she dearly longs for) and ship her off to school at the first chance they get. Her mother is a cold, stern woman who doesn’t provide any light or sparkling moments for Geillis to cherish. The most memorable interactions of her childhood are with her mother’s cousin, Geillis Saxon. Cousin Geillis has mysteriously appeared in her life a few times throughout her childhood and has left a tender and magical impression on Jilly’s heart. During college Jilly’s mother passes away and she returns home to care for her aging father until he dies as well. With no where to go and feeling anxious for her future she receives notification that Cousin Geillis, whom she hasn’t seen in years, has also passed and has left Jilly her home in the country, a home called Thornyhold.

Could this be Thornyhold?

This miraculous coincidence takes her to a paradisaical home that is surrounded by a neglected, but lush garden.  As Jilly settles into her new environment she encounters her young neighbor William and her cousin’s housekeeper Agnes Tripp who is not altogether trustworthy. She soon discerns that her cousin was known as a wise woman among her neighbors and she suspects that she may have the same gifts herself.

Slow, simmering suspense and a very sweet love story infuse Thornyhold with the perfect mixture of the serious and sublime. Jilly is a great character, a woman I can see myself befriending – she’s so real and believable. The setting is also colorfully alive and tangible – Stewart has a huge talent for description.

Reading this novel was like snuggling down into a soft, warm bed in your own familiar room – completely comfortable and satisfying. I think I have found an author who will stay with me.

Have you read Mary Stewart? Do you have a favorite Mary Stewart novel?

16 thoughts on “Thornyhold by Mary Stewart

  1. Hi Anbolyn! I’m so pleased you like Mary Stewart! She is quickly becoming one of my favourite “fun” authors! I’m also really pleased you chose to review Thornyhold: I’ve read several of Stewart’s detective stories and loved them all, but have purposely steered clear of the novels containing supernatural elements, being somewhat suspicious of themes like clairvoyance, etc. But if this is more like Garden Spells, then I’m in!


  2. I have only read (and re-read) the Merlin novels, which I love – when I think of Arthur & Merlin, I think of her characters first. They also of course have a supernatural element. Thornyhold might be a good place to start with her other novels.


    1. I think I’ll read the Merlin series after I finish her other novels. I’ll bet she puts a marvelous spin on the Merlin story. Can’t wait – I’d better start cracking on her suspense novels!


  3. I’m so pleased that you have fallen in love with Mary Stewart too. I haven’t read enough yet to pick a favourite, but I’m lining up all of the books I can find so it won’t be too long until I can!


  4. It’s good to see another new Mary Stewart fan! It sounds like you chose a great book to start with. I’ve now read three of her novels (I’ve actually just finished reading Touch Not the Cat) and my favourite so far has definitely been Nine Coaches Waiting.


    1. Oooh, I’ll be waiting to see what you thought of Touch Not the Cat. I’m about 2/3 into it and am finding it very gothic and suspenseful and kind of old-fashioned – but I like it!


  5. My favourites are definitely her Arthurian books but I enjoyed Thornyhold not long ago. I read a lot of her books way back in the 1970s and always meant to write to her when she lived in Edinburgh but never did get around to it. I think she lives in Perthshire now but is very old.


    1. I just read your review of Thornyhold – I hope herbalism and witchcraft are prevalent in her novels because they add an interesting element to them. I think you are right about them being comfort reads so I’ll be sure and intersperse my reading of them with more ‘serious’ books! I’m glad to know she’s still alive – it makes me happy to know she is still among us.


  6. Nice review. I am an author and MS has been an ifluence on me. I was just checking around the internet to see if she’s still alive. Long before I was published, maybe 12-15 years ago, I wrote to her and she wrote back twice. Very cool! My favourite is by far, The Ivy Tree. I pick up used copies to have on hand to give away!


  7. I’ve loved Mary Stewart’s books since I was a young teenager (I’m 58 now!) and can honestly say I just couldn’t choose a favourite. I’ve re-read them all my life, reading Thornyhold just now, and each book has a new feel every time I read it! She’s a wonderful writer. There’s a lovely interview somewhere on YouTube. She lives in Scotland not that far from me on the banks of a loch in Argyllshire.


    1. Just now saw your comment, Fiona! I did watch the YouTube interview and was so charmed by Lady Stewart. It is her 97th birthday this year – amazing and wonderful that she is still around. I hope she is in good health and spirits.


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