I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
Published by Flatiron Books on July 7, 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 336 •Format: E-ARC •Source: NetGalley, Publisher
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.
*Thank you to NetGalley and Flatiron books for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review!*
Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a story just as lush and striking as its stunning cover. A fantasy novel that brings in Persian folklore, Girl, Serpent, Thorn follows the story of Soraya, a girl born into royalty but hidden away due to being cursed with a poisonous touch. Living in her private quarters with only her garden and occasional visit from her mother to curb her loneliness, Soraya’s isolation eventually drives her to seek answers as to her condition when she learns that a div is residing in the palace dungeons.
Soraya’s journey is a compelling one, and her motivations were intriguing to me, seeing how isolation from human, physical contact can shape and change someone. It was interesting to see Soraya struggle emotionally with her condition, as feelings of overwhelming guilt and shame for her poisonous touch abound (ever since she tried to touch a butterfly as a small child only for it to drop dead) yet there are flashes of power and rage within her, times where a small yet determined part of her wishes for others to fear what she can do, to protect herself from those who frighten or intimidate her. It’s a interesting dichotomy that Soraya battles throughout the duration of the novel and makes her character compelling- she’s really neither hero nor villain, but something in between. She makes choices that are morally complex and both “good” and “bad,” yet as a reader my focus was drawn more to her growth as a character rather than judgement on the actions themselves, as they often pushed her to learn more about herself and embrace her powers.
Soraya’s story is also deeply rooted in family, specifically the tale she’s been told her entire life about how and why she’s cursed, and the implicit trust she’s put in her family’s hands her whole life to know how to best “deal” with her condition. Yet the div she meets in the dungeon, Parvaneh, starts to cause cracks in the story that Soraya’s built her life around, and begins trailing verbal breadcrumbs for Soraya to investigate the truth of her power and how it came to be. These little hints were usually dropped at the end of chapters and were just enough information to entice me, as a reader, to keep promising “one more chapter” before putting the book down for the evening. The story will constantly make readers question characters’ motives and who is to be trusted or not.
Overall: It’s challenging to elaborate further on the story without wading into spoilers, however if you’re looking for a unique, dark fairy tale type fantasy novel with a protagonist who walks the line between good and evil, shame and power, I highly recommend Girl, Serpent, Thorn!