This book was provided for free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for the opportunity to read and review this book.
Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust was released yesterday, July 7th 2020. You can order it in hardcover at The Book Depository for £13.42, on Amazon in kindle format for £4.49 or in hardcover for £14.99.
This book contains a coercive relationship which may be triggering to anyone who has been in an emotionally abusive relationship. As someone who has, I personally felt that the book handled the topic with dignity and care; it was not romanticised or overused as a plot device. I won’t be going into detail about the relationship, however, I will be talking briefly about the way I feel the author handled the topic.
Melissa Bashardoust’s Girl, Serpent, Thorn is “an alluring feminist fairy tale” (Kirkus Reviews) 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.
Three things caught my attention when I saw this book available on NetGalley; the title, the stunning cover art and the book summary. I’m a big fan of fairytales retold and I like the idea of this one being fairytale-esque with something much deeper happening beneath the surface. As a child of the 90s I grew up watching the X-Men animated series and I was always fascinated with Rogue and her story, the fact that she couldn’t touch anyone without killing them.
This novel is of a similar vein, however, the protagonist isn’t a superhero. This is Rogue before she became Rogue before she learned that her curse could become something useful. I’m really intrigued by the final lines of the summary; consequences could mean many things. That tied in with a teenager who is convinced that she’s a monster could lead to some really dark places. Mistakes get made whether intentional or not when we’re trying to find ourselves.
What first attracted to me this book was the gorgeous cover, and it’s only outdone by the wonderful world and characters that the author has created. Taking inspiration from Persian Mythology, Melissa Bashardoust weaves the tale of Soraya a princess that has been locked away all her life due to a curse that makes her poisonous to touch. The summary speaks of consequences and I was worried that Soraya would end up becoming yet another one-sided character filled with bitterness. I was pleasantly surprised to find that she and all the characters are so much more fleshed out, and nothing is as straight forward as it seems.
I would say that Girl, Serpent, Thorn is more akin to traditional fairytales (nowhere near as dark as the original Grimm Fairytales, however) in the sense that there is no good or bad. It’s much more reminiscent of real-life where actions have consequences for everyone, and people make mistakes even if they mean well. This is certainly not a Disney story.
The strength of this novel is in the rich description and the strength of characters and not so much in the story. While I found it an enjoyable tale, I personally found it a little too easy to follow. There were no major shocks, twists or turns which is what makes me hesitate to give this a rating of 4 stars. It was a very enjoyable book, and one I would recommend, just for me I need the story not to be so obvious. It’s an easy, fun romp through a magical world and sometimes that is all a book needs to be.
I was impressed with the way Melissa Bashardoust has handled the topic of coercive relationships and emotional abuse. As someone who has PTSD from an emotionally abusive relationship, I am always nervous when a relationship like that is portrayed in the media because they never tend to get the nuances quite right (the recent Coronation Street plot did well yet failed to get it right). In Girl, Serpent, Thorn, the feelings the victim feels are so on point I would not be surprised if the author has experience (either personally or someone close to her) with this type of relationship.
It’s woven into the plot rather than being staged as the focal point of the plot. That distinction is important because it’s what happens every day. Abusive relationships go unnoticed, hidden, woven into the fabric of every day as people go about their daily lives. Just like emotional abusers in real life, the one in this book is a charmer who keeps up appearances. He’s even got himself convinced that he’s doing everything right.
The victim’s journey of self-revelation and finding their strength is empowering. This is not a story of heroism. There’s no magic fix. It’s a journey of self-healing and that is evident from start to finish. The entire topic of coercive relationships has been handled in a positive way within the fantasy genre and I hope it opens some people’s eyes to the reality of coercive behaviour. This is a YA book, and at the very least it will make young people more aware of these types of relationships.
This is an LGBTQ+ friendly book, and it was very much appreciated to have an LGBTQ+ relationship without anyone commenting on it as if there was something abnormal or shameful. I think this was the first fantasy book where there hasn’t been any shock over a gay couple. It’s almost as if authors forget that they have autonomy over the worlds they create and can actually make worlds where our social prejudices do not exist. It literally was a case of ‘ok you’re with X, cool’. Their gender didn’t matter! Holy revolution Batman!
The strength of this book is the author’s wonderful writing style that takes you to a faraway place and fully immerses you in its sights and sounds. You don’t just read about the rich fabrics or the scent of the roses; you experience them. While the plot didn’t quite live up to my personal standards the world-building was another story. It was incredible and Girl, Serpent, Thorn is well worth reading just to experience that if nothing else.
Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a comfortable, fun fantasy romp and that’s great. It doesn’t need to be an amazing fantasy epic to be enjoyable. While it didn’t hit all the right spots for me it’s still a novel I highly recommend, and as it’s a young adult one, it’s quite possible that I’m just a little too old (not that I feel it) for it. I’m a little too experienced, perhaps a tad jaded, and thus was able to follow the plot easier. As readers, we bring our own experiences to every book we read so I urge you to read this one for yourself and make your own mind up.
Books by Melissa Bashardoust
Over to you
Thanks for reading my review of Girl, Serpent, Thorn! How gorgeous is that cover? I’ve not read Melissa Bashardoust’s other book but it’s certainly one I’m going to be keeping an eye out for after reading this one.
What do you think of Girl, Serprent, Thorn? Is it on your TBR?
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