I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Girl, Serpent, Thorn Published by Flatiron Books on July 7, 2020
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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.
As soon as I heard about Girl, Serpent, Thorn I knew I had to read it. The author Melissa Bashardoust drew inspiration for this book from Sleeping Beauty, Rappaccini’s Daughter, and Persian folklore, and that immediately drew my attention. I am fascinated by folklore from different cultures, and while my knowledge of Persian folklore is limited, I am certainly intrigued to read more about it now.
Soraya, the protagonist of Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a cursed princess. Anyone or anything that she touches dies. She has lived with this curse her entire life, and it has shaped who she is. Soraya lives almost entirely in exclusion, exploring the depths of the castle in which she has spent her whole life while her family keeps her a secret. When her family leaves for an extended period of time, Soraya stays behind. They do not want anyone to know about the princess with the deadly touch. Soraya is plagued by shame and worry about what the curse means about who she is as a person.
It is certainly an interesting time to read a story about a person who has lived in near-isolation her entire life and is unable to touch anyone. While the author did not know that social distancing would be the new normal while writing this, I think it has actually helped. I felt that I could relate to Soraya a little bit more, having spent the last few months with limited social contact myself. Of course, my own circumstances are nowhere near as drastic as Soraya’s.
What I Liked About Girl, Serpent, Thorn:
The Plot and Pacing: The plot of Girl, Serpent, Thorn is really quite exciting. The pacing is spot on. It is a bit slow to start, as we are introduced to Soraya and her story, and then it picks up. The author skilfully throws in necessary information as needed. Girl, Serpent, Thorn contained much more of an adventure than I expected. The plot is complex, but not too complex. Girl, Serpent, Thorn is definitely a page turner.
Relationships: I love seeing bi-sexual characters in books, especially those aimed at young adult readers. There is a hint of romance in Girl, Serpent, Thorn, but I wouldn’t say it is central to the plot. In fact, I do wish there was a bit more of Soraya and Parvaneh.
The family relationships in Girl, Serpent, Thorn are intense. For her entire life, Soraya has believed that her curse is the result of something that her mother did when she was a young girl. She did not understand why she was punished for her mother’s blunder. However, things are much more complex than this and the true story of Soraya’s curse, and how her mother is involved, is gradually revealed. It was not at all what I expected, and the truth was so beautiful it made me want to cry.
The relationship between Soraya and her brother, on the other hand, is a bit weird. They used to be close, but now she barely interacts with him. Her brother has a lot of responsibility, but still I did not like the way that he treats Soraya at all.
Personal Development: Soraya’s journey in Girl, Serpent, Thorn is both a physical one and a mental one. As she learns more about her history, she becomes more aware of who she is as a person. I loved seeing her grow and accept who she really is.
Folklore: The Persian folklore aspects of Girl, Serpent, Thorn are absolutely fascinating. It is unlike anything that I have ever read before. The author includes some helpful notes on the backstory of some of the characters and creatures, which I appreciated. Some of the creatures were unlike anything I have read before, and they are based on old legends. Bashardoust has actually spoke about this in an interview with Goodreads, which you can find here.
What I Didn’t Like About Girl, Serpent, Thorn:
Character Depth: I do feel that some of the characters in this book lacked depth. While we get to know Soraya fairly well, I feel that Bashardoust barely touches the surface with some of the other important characters. I would have loved to know more about Parvaneh and Azad in particular.
Ease: While Soraya’s journey is fascinating, I also felt that it was a bit too easy. There was never a moment where I felt that all hope was lost for Soraya. I never worried that she wouldn’t be successful in her endeavours. Although this book is a standalone, I actually feel that it could have been made a series.
The Narration: I listened to an audiobook of Girl, Serpent, Thorn, and something about the narration didn’t work for me. I think this is partially down to the fact that the story line is quite complex at times, and it was a bit more difficult to follow by audiobook.
If you are looking for a truly unique fantasy novel, then I highly recommend Girl, Serpent, Thorn. The combination of Persian folklore, unique creatures, a fast-paced adventure, and a strong female protagonist makes for a wonderful read.
I’d like to thank Netgalley and MacMillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this book, in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own, as usual.