Book: Girl Serpent Thorn
Author: Melissa Bashardoust
Published By: Hodder and Stoughton
Publication Date: 7th July
BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Parvaneh and Soraya talk about her curse
Content Warnings: Death, violence, murder, bodily harm, blood/gore, imprisonment, mentions of past torture, abduction
Thank you to Hodder and Stoughton and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book, this in no way affected my opinion of it.
I read Melissa Bashardoust’s debut novel Girls Made of Snow and Glass last month, and was quite underwhelmed by it, so I went into Girl Serpent Thorn with a fair deal of trepidation. Thankfully I did enjoy it more than her previous book, although it did have some of the same issues with pacing and lack of character development. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
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.
So I’ll start again with my biggest issue from the book: pacing. I feel like that’s an issue I’ve been having with basically everything I’ve been reading for the past few months and I honestly don’t know if it’s me and I’m just perceiving everything as being slower paced or if I’ve just been reading a lot of slow books! But anyway, this story was definitely very slow to build and it was only really in the very end that anything particularly exciting happened in the plot (and then it felt somewhat of a rush to the end). This was also a big issue for me in Girls Made of Snow and Glass, so I guess maybe it’s the author’s style to have really slow building plots? Either way, it doesn’t work all that well for me.
I really liked the author’s writing style, where in the first book I found it kind of simplistic, I really enjoyed it here, I think she has improved a lot in the two years since that book was published. The writing was actually what hooked me to this book, the prologue is just so beautifully done.
I loved the Persian mythology influences, I’m not all that familiar with Persian mythology but the author’s note was really helpful in explaining all the different things she brought in and I just thought it was really cool to read a story inspired by a culture that I’m not as familiar with. It was a really unique and creative idea for a fairytale and I thought that was so cool.
I don’t really know how to feel about Soraya. On the one hand, I did feel sorry for her not being able to touch the people she loved (and that one really hit differently in the pandemic than I imagine it would have previously!) but on the other hand, there was nothing that really made me feel connected to her. I don’t know, I would describe my feelings as kind of lukewarm which is not how you really want to feel about the main character in a novel.
Once again, as with Bashardoust’s first novel, the supporting characters felt kind of flat. I mean Soraya did too to a lesser extent, but at least I felt like I knew her and her motivations whereas the other characters, I felt like I only really knew the bare minimum about them. This was a shame because I felt like a lot of the secondary characters, like Tahmineh (Soraya’s mother) and Parvaneh had the potential to be really interesting, they just weren’t explored all that much.
I can’t say I was massively interested in the romance elements, though that wasn’t particularly a surprise. I just didn’t feel that either of Soraya’s romantic interests felt particularly well developed and so I didn’t find myself particularly invested in either of their relationships with Soraya. I did however appreciate how casually bisexual Soraya was!
I was kind of expecting Soraya to be more of a villain? I mean don’t get me wrong, she definitely does some questionable things throughout the book but I was expecting so much more than what we ended up getting.
The dynamics between Soraya and her mother and brother were pretty interesting given that she’s been largely separated from them through her life and I thought there was maybe a little more room to explore those dynamics than was actually done on the page.
Overall, Girl Serpent Thorn was a decent fairytale and very original but suffered from a lack of character development and a slow paced plot with an ultimately rushed conclusion.
My Rating: 3/5
My next review will be of my July #RockMyTBR read, King of Scars, the next book in the Grishaverse by Leigh Bardugo.