Title: Girl, Serpent, Thorn
Author: Melissa Bashardoust
Release date: May 12th 2020
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Star rating: ★★★
Purchase: Book Depository (Affiliate Link)
*I received a free eARC of this book from Netgalley via the publisher, Flatiron Books, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Thank you so much to Flatiron Books for sending me a copy!*
Summary (Taken from Goodreads)
A captivating and utterly original fairy tale about a girl cursed to be poisonous to the touch, and who discovers what power might lie in such a curse…
There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.
As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.
Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster.
I can only describe my experience reading Girl, Serpent, Thorn as a tough one. As my Goodreads reading comments will show you, it took me almost a week to make it through the first 30% of the book, and I didn’t find my enjoyment of the book picking up until around the 50-60% mark. If I didn’t feel obligated to review Girl, Serpent, Thorn, I likely would have DNF’d it. I try not to be too negative in my reviews, but, in a sense, it’s my duty to be honest, and I’m not going to award a five star rating for a book I don’t feel deserves more than three.
I want to make it very clear, before I start discussing this book in-depth (without spoilers, of course) that my issue is not with Bashardoust’s writing style, the Persian influences or largely the plot as a whole. The thing that made this book so hard for me to get through was definitely its characters, who I’ll try my best to get my feelings on across shortly.
Girl, Serpent, Thorn, as I mentioned, is a Persian-inspired YA Fantasy. I haven’t ever previously come across a book with Persian influences before, and so I greatly enjoyed this aspect of the novel. In the beginning of the book, I found it a little tricky to keep track of who was who and what was what, but this was only because I wasn’t familiar with the terminology used. As the book went on, I found this problem disappeared for me and I could keep reading on without having to refer to my notes or go back and read earlier chapters to remind myself of events and titles mentioned throughout.
When the novel begins, we are introduced to our protagonist, Soraya. She has lived her entire life in seclusion, kept away from both her family and the rest of her people due to her poisonous touch – the result of a curse she has because of her mother. Soraya loves to tend to her private garden, as it is the only thing she can interact with and touch without it dying immediately. I found Soraya to be not the most enjoyable protagonist to read about, mostly because I found her rather whiny and annoying, and at times, much like a wet paper towel. I can safely say that Soraya definitely wasn’t the reason I kept on reading right up until the end.
Relatively early on in the book, we are introduced to Soraya’s two main love interests. Because I can’t say too much about either of them without spoiling the plot for you, I will mention that Soraya is bisexual, and so she has both a male and a female love interest to choose from! If we were rating Soraya’s love interests on a scale from 1-10 of how much I loved them (1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest), the male love interest, Azad would be a definite 1 and the female love interest, Parvaneh, would be a solid 8, maybe 9 at parts in the book. As I commented on while reading the book to a friend, I would, at times, want to throw a brick at Azad, while I would happily read a spin-off/prequel novella about Parvaneh – she was easily the most interesting character throughout the book, and it was largely her scenes that kept me reading and entertained. I found Azad to be, dare I say, cringe-worthy in his earlier scenes and I didn’t like the insta-love aspect between him and Soraya, although their relationship does develop into something more interesting as the plot unfolds (again, no spoilers!).
On the whole, I found the side characters in Girl, Serpent, Thorn to be underdeveloped. While this remark might not be entirely fair given that we don’t see too much of them – save Soraya’s mother, who has a few key scenes – throughout the book, it would have been nice to feel as though they were people we should care about, rather than wanting to skim ahead to when they weren’t on the page so things were a little more interesting.
In an effort not to be solely badmouthing (and “dumping” on) this book, I should note that I found the plot of Girl, Serpent, Thorn to be thoroughly enjoyable. While I haven’t read Bashardoust’s other novel, it is clear that she has a skill for engineering plot twists you don’t see coming from a mile away, and I found her writing style to be entertaining, although I do wish the pacing was a little faster in places.
That’s really all I can say on Girl, Serpent, Thorn without spoiling everything, and so I’ll leave this review with my summary points of “you should enjoy this book if you like this”…
You should enjoy Girl, Serpent, Thorn if you like:
- Persian-inspired stories
- Standalone YA Fantasy
- Deadly princesses!
- Plot twists you won’t see coming
- F/f romances
- Bisexual main characters
Once again, thank you to Flatiron Books and Netgalley for providing me with an eARC of Girl, Serpent, Thorn and allowing me to read it prior to publication!
Next review: Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin.