GIRL, SERPENT, THORN, by Melissa Bashardoust, Flatiron Books, July 7, 2020, Hardcover, $18.99 (young adult)
Imagine a life where your touch is literally poison. That’s what the main character faces in Melissa Bashardoust’s Girl, Serpent, Thorn.
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. —Synopsis provided by Flatiron Books
Girl, Serpent, Thorn is as much a character study as it is a fantasy novel. Soraya has spent her entire life uncomfortable in her own skin. Yet she’s given some respite, she feels empty. And the decisions she must make along the way are heart-wrenching. Soraya’s choices are motivated by a mixture of fear, shame, love, loyalty and selfishness. Her choices are what make her human. They’re what make her real. And they’re what make her a sympathetic character.
Contrast that with the tale’s villain. He, too, was once motivated by the very same things as Soraya, but his choices take him down a much different path. These complexities make this a much more enjoyable read.
As much as I loved this study, the more fantastical elements also serve a purpose. Melissa Bashardoust has created a world that is rich in colors and textures. The creatures she brings to life are bold, beautiful and terrifying.
Girl, Serpent, Thorn is an engrossing read. There were a few twists that I guessed prior to coming about, but there were plenty that remained a surprise. This is one novel I didn’t want to put down.
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