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.
*I was sent an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
Girl, Serpent, Thorn is an engaging and intricately woven story, rooted in Persian folklore and mythology. The novel follows Soraya, a princess who has been cursed to be poisonous to the touch. Due to this, she is forced to remain in hiding in the secret passageways of Golvahar palace, where her only joy is her rose garden. Although usually she has to watch her family come and go as they please, this time they intend to stay for the shah’s – her twin brother Sorush – wedding. As the wedding preparations begin, she finds out that there is a prisoner who may be able to help lift her curse as well as a handsome soldier who seeks her out. This begins a chain of events which will change Soraya’s life and force her to confront some of her worst fears but also find herself.
I think one of the biggest strengths of this book was how well imagined and explored all of the world building and mythology was. I really liked the fact that the original language and terms were peppered in and there was also a full and detailed explanation of them at the end of the book for readers who may not be familiar with them. I love finding new voices in the fantasy genre, especially non-western centric fantasy so this was a delightful adventure. I enjoyed the wide range of mythology touched upon in the book and how this was intertwined with Bashadoust’s lyrical writing, resulting in a gorgeous story, very reminiscent of older fairytales. Just like in those older fairytales, before being all ‘disney-fied’ there’s darker tones to this story and more complex themes explored too, all I know is I wouldn’t want to be in that mountain full of Div’s!
As well as the mythology, I enjoyed reading the journey of self discovery the protagonist, Soraya goes on. Having spent her whole life hidden away and unable to experience physical touch, Soraya feels utterly isolated and also resentful once the truth of her curse is exposed. I feel like her feelings are so warranted and I really empathised with her, as she goes from feeling like a monster to coming to some key realisations about who she is and how the curse doesn’t have to define her. I also thought the family dynamics explored were interesting even if I wasn’t a fan of the characters themselves, due to their neglectful attitude and behaviour towards Soraya for the majority of the novel. Obviously once everything is revealed, I guess their actions, in particular her mothers behaviour is explained but for me, it just wasn’t good enough to excuse all her previous missteps.
If a reader were to go into this expecting it to be more focused on just the romance, I think they’d be a bit disappointed, as it’s more about the lore and Soraya’s journey and growth. Saying this however, there is a sapphic romance in this book and it is definitely slow burn and all about the tension which then comes to culmination in the latter half of the book. There are two ‘love interests’ – Parvaneh and Azad – both of them complex and flawed in their own ways, and I think it will definitely be interesting to see what other reviewers think about them both. I liked that they both mirrored Soraya in many ways and both helped her, sometimes even inadvertently, to come to some home truths. This isn’t a love triangle though so if you’re sick and tired of that trope, rest assured, it’s not present!
Overall Girl, Serpent, Thorn was an enjoyable read, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for an exciting fantasy read with diverse rep and interesting reworkings of some classic tropes.
Until next time,