Hi everyone! I hope you’re all doing well! I originally intended to schedule this post as I stayed with my girlfriend who I haven’t seen since March but I didn’t end up finishing the book until today! Anyway, I was kindly approved for an e-ARC of Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust by Netgalley (and I got the Fairyloot exclusive edition!) and I really loved this lush, beautiful fantasy standalone! There may be some spoilers in this review!
Title: Girl, Serpent, Thorn
Author: Melissa Bashardoust
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling, Mythology, Young adult, LGBT+
Rating: 4 Stars – 8.0 CAWPILE rating
Synopsis: 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 think, once again, I’m going to split my review into what I liked, and what I wasn’t so fond of. First of all, the characters, particularly the main character, Soraya. Soraya is cursed to be poisonous to the touch and so is hidden away from everyone but her family and closest friend. She lives in a separate part of the palace with just a beautiful rose garden to keep her company. At the start of the novel Soraya is extremely timid, terrified to even go near another living creature for fear of accidentally killing them, but as the novel continues we get to see her grow and flourish into quite a morally grey character. Relatively early on in the book Soraya accidentally kills a beetle and from there we see her struggling with her curse. Not long after, Soraya kills a human for the first time and her inner battle becomes ever apparent, as she struggles with fearing who she is, dealing with the power she holds as a result of it, and learning to love herself regardless. Because of this, Soraya is one of the best female fantasy character’s I’ve read in a long time. I also really loved Parvaneh, the parik. Parvaneh is kept prisoner at the start of the book and offers to help Soraya rid herself of her curse in return for some help herself. I was intrigued by Parvaneh from the start, and particularly by the politics surrounding the parik and their relationship with other divs. In the second half of the book we see a more flirty, almost sultry side of Parvaneh which I really loved (hello new fictional crush!) and the scene in the forest was so beautiful – I was underlining so many passages, I was so enthralled by it!
Of course, I also have to mention the romance. Soraya is bisexual and is attracted to both men and women in the novel (although it doesn’t explicitly say that she is bi). At first it seems like the book is going to be a romance between Azad and Soraya, which initially I wasn’t even opposed to, but it is actually a beautiful, quite slow burn f/f romance that is absolutely full to the brim with longing. Although at first I did think that the romance came a little out of nowhere, the love that Soraya and Parvaneh have for each other was so sweet that I couldn’t help falling in love with them as a couple! They made each other feel seen and were so loyal and caring towards each other that it was almost impossible not to be rooting for them.
The influence of Persian mythology throughout the novel was so refreshing in ya fantasy, and was one of the reasons I was originally drawn to the book. However, I wish that there had been some more world-building and a little more time given to develop the plot and characters. In this sense, I feel like the book could have benefited from being split into two separate books instead of being just over 300 pages long. That being said, I did really enjoy the book for what it was (I think I would’ve loved it even more if I hadn’t put it on hold for a week!) and I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for Melissa Bashardoust’s future works!