Fiona Thorn and the Carapacem Spell

Fiona Thorn and the Carapacem Spell is the story of a young girl who loves to blow things up. She’s (mostly) well trained with explosives and she’s on a quest to save her friend who has been wrongly accused of putting a boy in a catatonic state. Along the way, she needs to free herself from a curse that’s killing her and deal with three princesses on the run from the assassins trying to kill the king.

A lot of the details (and the back cover) suggest that this is a middle grade book. It has fairies, princesses, a talking horse who is bonded with Fiona, and a strong impulsive adolescent female lead. It’s very funny in parts, too, often in the slap-sticky way tweens typically find hilarious. However, a lot of other details may make this kind of intense and gory for the younger end of middle grade.

Overall, it’s a quick moving plot with a strong theme of not making assumptions about other people. I stayed somewhat off-kilter through it due to expectations for younger readers, though. In the end, some of the plot is resolved off screen—we get a flashback and stories to cover the time between when Fiona passes out, supposedly dead, and when she wakes up at home, still dying. I would have preferred to see things played out more actively, but people who enjoyed Mockingjay might not agree with me!

SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid

Violence and Gore

Some of the worst violence comes at the hands of the truly evil villain, and it happens to spiders. You might think this isn’t such a big deal, but when you see the detailed ritual killing by boiling cauldron of a baby spider through the mother’s eyes while she’s frozen with fear? Kind of intense, even if it is a spider. Later, another baby spider gets crushed to death. These aren’t exactly nice spiders—they’re rather deadly and awful, in fact—but since they’re captives of the villain and there’s the whole mother, children relationship going, they aren’t just monsters, either.

Blood sprays between a bad guy’s fingers after Fiona elbows him in the nose.

In Fiona’s final quest to reach the villain, she suffers broken bones, bloody and debilitating injuries, and frostbite such that her pinky is permanently damaged. She has bouts where she can’t breathe—like, can’t breathe at all, not just short of breath. She pukes and coughs up blood. She’s in incredible pain. It’s not really for the faint of heart.

It’s not really gore, but everyone gets covered in snake snot when they use magic to make a snake character huge and then he sneezes.

McClane, the explosives master, is missing several fingers from times that things didn’t go so well.

Death and Things Like Death

Fiona and the princesses befriend a Cave Bodkin. When they’re attacked by a huge rat, the Bodkin sacrifices itself to save them, dying a bloody death in the arms of the middle princess. This death affects her for the rest of the book.

Death of old age for fairies is called the Shine. It’s a beautiful ritual to be celebrated. One of the minor characters experiences his Shine.

To break the curse, Fiona has to trade a life for a life (she ended up with the curse when she asked for her friend, condemned to death, to be saved). Since she won’t kill anyone, she’s dying, slowly losing vitality and breath. In the end, she does kill the villain (sort of? At any rate, she figures out and disrupts the grand evil plan) and ends her curse.

The bad guys play off of Fiona’s darkest fears, convincing her that her friends are already dead. Her bonded friend is dead because of her and the friend she tried to save is dead anyway, making all of this useless. In the end that isn’t true, but for a while, Fiona—and therefore the reader—doesn’t know that.

Fiona’s friend is going to be executed because he seems to have magically put a young boy into a coma. People are, not surprisingly, pretty worked up about the kid wasting away in his sleep.


Fiona thinks all princesses are prissy, frilly, whiny things. And at first the three bickering sisters in the story totally live up to that. But over time, Fiona sees that there’s more there. And the princesses begin to appreciate Fiona, even with her bossy, act first and think later ways.

One of the reasons the assassins want to kill the king is because he accepts “mixed breeds and flittin’ fairies.” This has fairly specific meaning in a world where fairies and fae creatures are real, but applying that to racism and homophobia in our world is no big stretch.

A fourteen year old boy wants to cook, but he’s forced to be a guard, like a man. In the end, he does get a job in the kitchens, though.

Nightmare Fuel

If spiders creep your kid out, the huge snow spiders, who are half terrifying and half sympathetic and totally deadly, probably won’t be terribly pleasant.

As Fiona’s curse slowly kills her, she starts suffocating. If that’s a trigger for your kid, this book might be a bit much—it goes into some detail about Fiona’s suffering.

Other Stuff

A talking snake, who is definitely male, befriends the girls. At one point he slithers up the leg of one of the princesses—I think she’s about 12?—up under her dress and wraps around her waist. It’s so he can be smuggled into the palace, but it still struck me as kinda weird and creepy.

McClane gives crossbows with exploding arrows to all of the princesses—including the toddler. Eventually people seem to figure out that arming a toddler with explosives and powerful magic and no constraints might not actually be the best idea!

The toddler shrinks an ogre down very small, and then keeps it as a pet. She kind of torments it, as you would expect a toddler to do with a pet. But ogres walk a line between human and animal, and that made me uncomfortable with this situation. Just because you view a race of creatures as less than you (and also, definitely, aggressive toward your race—so there’s that) doesn’t mean it’s moral to keep one as a pet. In many other contexts, this would be seen as the sign of a bad person, but in the book it seems totally acceptable and kind of cute.

Fiona has quite the tendency to blow things up first and ask questions later. Explosives are the first solution for everything. That’s part of her charm, but also potentially disturbing for some. Most of her damage is to things, not people.


A lot of my issues with this book come from the target audience of middle grade. If you shift the reader’s age up to the older end of tween and include young adult, it’s pretty fun. But I think it would probably be too much for my 12 year old who is sensitive to death and gore.

I appreciated some of the explicit messages about not making assumptions about people. The evolving relationships between the two older sisters and Fiona were interesting. It’s an interesting fantasy world with compelling and active female characters, but you’ll have to decide at what age your kid is ready for the fairly detailed gore and near-death.

Disclaimer: The author provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.


Fiona Thorn and the Carapacem Spell by Jen Barton
Published in 2012 by Jen Barton
Read personal hard copy

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