Book Review

Girl, Serpent, Thorn

Girl, Serpent, Thorn

  • Author: Melissa Bashardoust
  • Genre: YA Fantasy
  • Publication Date: July 7, 2020
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books

TRIGGER WARNING: captivity, anxiety, torture, gore

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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 the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds the knowledge she craves, the answer to her freedom. 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.

The story takes place in a world inspired by ancient Persia, a world inhabited by shahs and demons. Soraya lives under a curse, so she’s hidden away from the world:

“Soraya lived in the shadows of Golvahar so that her family would not live in hers.”

I loved seeing her experience the world outside of her gilded cage as she sneaks out for the first time in her life:

“These stalls were all empty now, but she imaged this street lined with rugs and tapestries — the bright colors of the dyes, the sound of looms clacking as they turned bolts of raw silk imported from the east into the beautiful patterns of the rugs Atashar was famous for.”

The curse creates a lot of difficult family dynamics for Soraya. While Sorush, her twin brother, is the shah, she’s locked away and hidden from the world. Understandably, this creates a lot of jealousy and frustration on her end, while it’s easier for the rest of the family to turn a blind eye to her.

“They stared at each other, the sun and his jealous shadow returning to their natural trajectory before Sorush quickly looked away.”

All Soraya wants is to find a way to remove the curse so she can have a normal life. When she learns that her brother is holding a demon in the dungeon, she realizes that this is the opportunity she needs to find out the information she needs. 

“She had read enough stories to know that the princess and the monster were never the same. She had been alone long enough to know which one she was.”

But the choices that she makes have serious consequences, and it seems like no matter what she does, it is the wrong decision. She doesn’t know who to trust, and she worries that she’s turning into more of a monster than ever before. There’s definitely a LOT of angst in this story, and the majority of the characters are morally gray. 

“It seemed to her sometimes that she could only ever be one thing or the other, a mouse or a viper, with nothing in between. And if that were true, then she didn’t know which she would choose. Either way brought her misery and shame.”

There’s also a lot of sexual tension in the story. Early in the story it’s clear that Soraya has some sapphic tendencies, but then she becomes attracted to a guy. I was secretly (ok, not so secretly) rooting for her to end up with a girl. I love seeing sapphic romances in books! The whole situation gets complicated, and I won’t elaborate further in order to avoid revealing any spoilers. There were some plot twists that I saw coming, but I didn’t predict exactly how they played out. Overall, it’s a good story and it was enjoyable. 

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 15

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