Review: ‘Girl, Serpent, Thorn’ by Melissa Bashardoust (ARC)

[Soraya] had read enough stories to know that the princess and the monster were never the same. She had been alone long enough to know which one she was.

Rating:

5/5 paper planes

What’s This Book About?

Genre: YA fantasy (retelling, Persian mythology)

Publication date: 7th July 2020

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 finally step outside of the shadows. In the dungeon is a demon who holds 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?

What I Thought:

This is, and is not, a fairy tale retelling. Drawing inspiration from the myths and legend of Bashardoust’s culture (yet forming an compelling and original story), this story was as twisting as that snake on the cover, full of complex characters in a highly atmospheric setting recalling ancient Persia.

As the synopsis suggests, terrible mistakes are made, with suitably terrible consequences. These catastrophic errors are not only those of Soraya, our protagonist – almost everyone in this novel is blundering around, entangling themselves ever deeper into nets of their own chaos and regret. There were plenty of unexpected revelations… Everyone is trapped in their own way, but impressively they all retain their agency. This made for a whole host of incredibly complex characters, particularly Soraya and the villain, and I absolutely loved the will-she-won’t-she dynamic as Soraya teeters on the needle of her moral compass. Soraya’s mother, Tahmineh, is especially fascinating, as is her relationship to her daughter. We already know from the very beginning that Tahmineh is a pivotal figure.

All the female bonds in this book were great to read – not least the sapphic romance. I wasn’t even expecting to, but I shipped it so much; it was just so tenderly written yet no less intense for it, and I loved how it developed.

it's about the yearning

There was and there was not a love triangle. For fear of spoilers, that’s all I’m going to say about that – just know that as someone who hates love triangles with a passion, the dilemma in this novel was pretty understandable. (Strong Darklina vibes at times.) I also enjoyed the lack of girl-on-girl hate! It would have been so easy to fall into that, but it didn’t happen and I’m thankful. Bashardoust’s characterisation and narrative is too layered to make drama out of something so superficial!

The world of this novel, Atashar, is full of magic, tradition, deities and demons – my first encounter with Persian mythology! I highly recommend taking the time to read the Author’s Notes at the back. Of course, I didn’t need the extra information to understand the story, as Bashardoust’s skill with exposition and use of context meant the world took form around me almost seamlessly, without the need for info-dumping. Whenever explanations were given to Soraya, it’s believable that she doesn’t know this, so it didn’t come across as spoon-fed information. Needless to say that after reading ‘Girl, Serpent, Thorn, the archaeologist in me is dying to learn more about Persian history! I’m certainly going to check out Bashardoust’s other novel as well, ‘Girls Made of Snow and Glass’.

Thank you to Netgalley and Hodder & Stoughton for the eARC for an honest review!

Thanks for reading! Is this book on your radar? Have you already read it (and what do you think)? Let me know any thoughts below!

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