K. Eason, How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse: Book One of the Thorne Chronicles. DAW books, 2019. Pp. 408. ISBN 978-0-7564-1529-7. $26.00.
Reviewed by Lisa Timpf
For those who are tired of books and movies about hapless princesses who sit on their hands and wait for a prince to rescue them, K. Eason’s space opera How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse provides a welcome breath of fresh air. Released in 2019, the novel serves as book one of the Thorne Chronicles. Book two, titled How the Multiverse Got Its Revenge, appeared in 2020.
Eason signals early on that protagonist Rory Thorne is not like a stereotypical princess. As a child, Rory enjoys looking at the koi in the family’s fish pond, and unlike the visiting Prince Ivar, is unafraid of the tree rats that populate her planet. What she doesn’t enjoy is getting dressed up in clothing she finds uncomfortable in order to attend social functions that she finds tedious. Her instinctive response when a well-meaning relative gives her a book of etiquette as a gift is to bury it in the garden.
There are, of course, reasons for Rory’s lack of conformity. Her body-maid Grytt is an ex-marine who spices up childhood games of tag with the addition of traps to be avoided. Rory is also tutored by the Thorne Consortium’s Vizier, Messer Rupert, who takes pride in how adept she is at learning the fine points of arithmancy.
Rory’s childhood is relatively happy until her seventh birthday. King Sergei, the visiting ruler of the Free Worlds of Tadesh, is killed in a bomb blast while he and Prince Ivar are guests at Rory’s birthday party. Rory’s father is also grievously injured and subsequently dies, after which the Thorne Consortium goes to war against the Free Worlds of Tadesh, which are now led by a conniving, ambitious and ruthless man named Vernor Moss. Ultimately, Samur, Rory’s mother, is forced to form an alliance with Moss to end the war. To further cement the agreement, Rory is pledged to wed the underwhelming Prince Ivar at a future point in time. So much for fairy-tale marriages.
In preparation for the future nuptials, Rory is forced to leave home and relocate to the space station Urse, the Tadeshi stronghold, while her mother remains at home. Accompanied by Messer Rupert, Grytt, and four security people, Rory moves into hostile territory. At first, the frustrated Rory feels like an insect caught in the web of the Moss’s machinations.
As she learns more about Moss’s plans for her, Rory comes to realize the precariousness of her position. Her difficulties are compounded when events conspire to make Messer Rupert and Grytt unavailable to her. Though Rory might be tempted to sit and wait for rescue, she knows it’s unlikely to come. Instead, she needs to take matters into her own hands—and she does so in an inventive manner that bears the stamp of her independent spirit.
Rory’s choice of action rather than submission isn’t the only way Eason upends the trope of the fairy-tale princess. There are others, one of them being the Naming Ceremony that is held for Rory when she is very young. Tradition in the Thorne line calls for female children to have a Naming Ceremony. According to rumor, these were customarily attended by fairies who bestowed blessings on the child. Though Rory’s father is assured by Messer Rupert that the fairies are highly unlikely to appear, he agrees to invite them out of deference to history.
Contrary to expectation, the fairies do show up—and they aren’t cute Tinker Bell-esque entities. Some are taller than humans. The thirteenth fairy wears spike-heeled boots, and has “a shock of pink hair cresting upright along the middle of her scalp” (12) She also has “a lot of teeth… unusually pointed. Sharp, even.” (13). Each fairy bestows a gift. Some gifts seem innocent, if stereotypical—clear skin, and the ability to play the harp, as examples. But the twelfth and thirteen fairies give Rory other attributes which prove critical to the story’s outcome: courage, and the ability to detect when someone is lying. When Rory’s younger brother Jacen is born, she questions why he does not get a Naming Ceremony, and is told:
Boys don’t need fairy gifts, because boys are supposed to be kings. No one cares if a king is pretty. People probably should care if he’s kind, but they don’t. He’s supposed to run things. But you—your job is to make him happy and to make his people love you. That’s easier if you’re pretty and nice. All that business the fairies gave you, that’s to make your life easier. (60)
According to Thorne tradition, once Jacen is born succession to the throne automatically skips over Rory and transfers to her brother and his heirs. Rory is the first princess born to the Thorne line in two centuries, and although greater societal equity has evolved between the genders over the years since the birth of the previous Princess, no-one has thought to change the inheritance rules. But with her father dead, and her Kreshti mother viewed as an outsider, it’s too late to change things for Rory’s benefit.
With Rory getting a raw deal, it would be easy for the novel to become a downer. But Eason’s generous and down-to-earth use of humor keeps things light. For example, on one occasion, Eason notes, “Rory was a smart child. The fairies had seen to that. So although she did not know what an heirloom was, she did recognize when someone else wished she’d be quiet and disappear into the scenery.” (18) Eason employs humor as a form of social commentary. Attending one of her first formal events after arriving on Urse, Rory observes:
The presence of so many steep necklines was both reassuring and disconcerting. Some kinds of familiarity only serve to reinforce the depressing truth that people everywhere are capable of developing the same foolish customs. (122)
The novel is full of strong female characters who provide help along the way. Deme Grytt, Rory’s body-maid, is one of the more interesting of these. Grytt has a number of “mecha” parts as a result of injuries suffered during her service as a Kreshti Marine. When she suffers additional physical harm during the explosion that kills King Sergei, she gains more replacement parts including an artificial eye. Tough-talking and cynical, Grytt remains fiercely loyal to Rory, always acting in what she deems the princess’s best interests.
Rory has two male and two female guards, but it is the female guards Thorsdottir and Zhang who feature more prominently in the action. Thorsdottir is a “big-boned farmer’s daughter” (157) who, in my view, almost steals the show in some scenes despite her role as a secondary character. Zhang, shorter than her security companion, “came from a comfortably connected upper-middle-class merchant family. Her mother in particular had expressed great dismay when she enlisted in the royal guard instead of becoming lawyer.” (157) Rory’s mother Samur, who is willing to make difficult choices and personal sacrifices for the greater good, and Maggie, the clever and ambitious leader of the subversive Lanscottar people, are other strong female characters.
As she matures, Rory struggles with the conflict between what she wants as a person, and what is expected of her as a princess. Eason deals with these conflicts in a way that rings true. On one level, the struggles and reflections are about Rory the princess, but on another, some of them also apply to being a woman in a patriarchal society.
Packed with believable plot twists and a propensity to upend expectations, How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse is a worthwhile read that at the same time engages in a sometimes cutting and often humorous look at gender-based expectations. For anyone annoyed by fairy tale stereotypes of the hapless princess, Eason’s novel provides a welcome respite, inspiring laughter and at the same time, anger at the way gender-based expectations can shape our lives. Being a princess isn’t all fairy castles and happily ever after. But there is hope despite this unpleasant truth. As Rory Thorne’s example demonstrates, a woman can still dream about a future of her own choosing—even if she’s born a princess.