Title: Girl, Serpent, Thorn
Author: Melissa Basherdoust
Page Length: 336
Publication Date: July 7, 2020
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Synopsis: 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.
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Last night, I talked about Girl, Serpent, Thorn book for over 45 minutes with my husband. I also had two conversations with my son about the book – once when I was about halfway through the story, and again after I finished it. I found I had a lot to say, and even after I read three unrelated books (all enjoyable reads), I kept thinking about the characters, the world, and the poignant and thought-provoking concepts within Girl, Serpent, Thorn.
The story follows Soraya, the shah’s reclusive sister, whose touch is deadly because of a div, or demon, curse. Hidden away, the only refuge the roses she meticulously curates, Soraya resembles one of the heroines in the fairy tales she is so fond of. Unfortunately, she sees herself as the monster in her stories.
When she meets Azad, everything changes. He makes her feel alive. Instead of the disappointment and resentment that plague her, especially when she thinks about her ever-distant family, Azad offers her hope. And when she learns of an imprisoned div that might know about breaking her curse, Soraya, with Azad’s encouragement, starts down a path that she soon regrets. Regretful of her impulsivity, Soraya works to fix what she broke no matter the cost.
It’s fitting that the original title for this story was She Was and She Was Not, since much of Girl, Serpent, Thorn focuses on dualities, especially concerning the characters. There were many times in the story where I questioned who was good and who was bad. I liked the characters that I wanted to hate, and I disliked others who were considered honorable and good. And then, in an instant, my views on everyone changed. The story blurs the lines between right and wrong as well as truth and lies and suggests a moral grayness that is fascinating to explore. There is an amazing amount of depth and complexity in the characters. All are flawed, all have made mistakes, and all show instances of kindness.
Soraya, for example, epitomizes the “she was and she was not” duality. She is a hero and a monster. She is selfish and selfless. She is wise, and she is naive. She is flawed, just like everyone else, and she needs to learn to love herself, flaws and all. This proves difficult, as she’s felt rejected and abandoned for most of her life and still lives in isolation and fear.
I was always afraid the poison would make me a monster, but what if trying to get rid of it makes me more of a monster than I was before?
Unsure about everything, including herself, her feelings, and her place in the world, Soraya must look within before she can solve the problems she created. This is a coming-of-age story that skillfully explores the impact of abandonment as well as the power and gratification of self-acceptance.
Soraya has difficulty realizing people’s true motives. Everyone in the story has an agenda, and not all of their motives are sincere. Lies, betrayal, and secrets permeate the story and create a complex web of characters and events. The surprise twists and unraveling of secrets added to the suspense and the complexity of the characters.
Another aspect of the story that I adored is the love story. It’s fantastic! Soraya has never had a romantic relationship, but she craves connection. This desire, and her naivete, lead her down an interesting romantic path. She experiences more than one romantic relationship in the story, and they are both fascinating for different reasons. The love stories are an interesting juxtaposition – the relationship that starts with unfounded trust ends disastrously, and the one that begins with complete distrust continues beautifully. And I have to say, the slow-building bond that she develops with one of her love interests is sweet and true.
The world-building is as dynamically developed as the characters. A magical kingdom filled with divs, powers, curses, and more, it is vivid and fascinating without being overbearing in its descriptions. Stylistically, the writing is strong and feels almost poetic – alluring and flowing in a way that immerses the reader into the story.
With a masterful and fascinating blend of fairy tale, Persian folklore, and stylistically beautiful writing, Girl, Serpent, Thorn is an enchanting story that I absolutely adored! Thanks so much to Netgalley and Flatiron Books for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.
“I’m not afraid to be near you,” he called. “I’m only afraid that you don’t want me to be.”
It was when they let each other see their harsh edges that they both felt real.
Resentment was a familiar path, one that she had already taken further than she had ever thought she would, and it had brought her to this prison. If she kept taking it, where would it lead her next?
- The romance, of course! 😉 As always, I a sucker for a good romance. In this story, there are two, and both are fascinating.
- The exploration of dualities and moral grayness.
This is the perfect book for readers who like YA fantasy with dynamically developed characters and authors who make you think.