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Review: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Review: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

‘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 from everyone, 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 did enjoy Girl, Serpent, Thorn, but I felt that, much as with the author’s previous work, Girls Made of Snow and Glass, around the 50% mark is where the story starts to get a little muddled. In terms of pacing and structure, it almost feels as if acts one, two and the majority of three are in the first half of the novel, leaving the second half of the third act to take up the rest of the story. However, this is only my opinion and may well not be an observation that has impacted other people’s reading. The writing itself is beautiful and I very much like the author’s style, particularly during moments of stillness and when characters’ emotions are running high.

Soraya is an engaging character for much of the first half of the book, her story and her need to uncover the truth about why she is how she is and what led to her being so interesting in its own right, but when one of her romantic interests (Azad) is introduced is when she begins to read as much younger and less capable than she is initially presented as. Though she has been without company for much of her life and feels isolated and alone, that she would so easily be drawn in by someone who flatters her so obviously doesn’t quite feel in keeping with what the reader has learnt about her. However, that she has been starved of human contact may well mean that she is not particularly well-versed in encountering deception, as is suggested by her behaviour throughout the story when faced with those who have failed to tell her the complete truth, or have chosen an edited version of it, believed to be for her benefit. Though both of her entanglements with her romantic interests involve manipulation, I was pleased to see that the other feels more based around a connection, affection, growing loyalty and a desire to see Soraya become who she could be so as to embrace all that she is, not simply to become cruel and powerful because she has the potential to be so.

Whether Soraya will embrace being ‘evil’ or try to atone for what she has done (I hesitate to call her actions a mistake, given what information she has available at the time and how she has experienced the world so far) is perhaps what takes up a good deal of the plot, yet is not quite as compelling as what I hope is the main message of the narrative (I won’t go into detail here, as I don’t want to spoil the ending). Soraya is a strong character – in that sense that her journey is compelling, not the ‘strong female character’ trope – who I would have gladly read much more about. Maybe the story would have worked better in terms of pacing and time for additional detail as a series?

Girl, Serpent, Thorn is certainly a well-written book, with a world and characters that I hope we get to see again in some form, despite it being a stand-alone.

I received a digital ARC from Netgalley and the publisher.