I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
Sadly, this fourteen-month-old ARC isn’t the oldest one in my library. (The oldest unread one might or might not be from 2018, but let’s move on.)
In Girl, Serpent, Thorn, Soraya is cursed. Any person or creature she touches, dies, so she has spent her entire life in seclusion, even from her family. So when she learns that a creature known as a div—the same type of creature that cursed her in the first place—has been captured, she can’t resist visiting it, to see if she can free herself. However, the more steps she takes down this path, the less sure she becomes. What if, she wonders, she really is a monster?
I’ve never read a book based on Persian folklore, but this was pretty interesting!
As a protagonist, Soraya is a decent one. You sympathize with her greatly at the beginning, especially in the way she’s been physically isolated for so long and how that has led to great loneliness. As the plot progresses, her choices grow more and more murky, which makes for an intriguing read. I sometimes cheered, and sometimes bemoaned, her decisions. However, Bashardoust does a good job showing why Soraya does what she does, and even if they aren’t the wisest acts, you always understand.
And Soraya isn’t the only morally ambiguous one—both the other main characters, Azad and Parvaneh make complex, nuanced choices as well. One is more obviously bad than the other, but there’s still an element of understanding, if not approval. It’s an intricate, if messy, web tying these characters together.
Beyond the characters, the story reads like a fairy tale, but with plenty of young adult angst. The settings are vivid, often lush but also often harsh, and it makes for an immersive reading experience. The action scenes are great, though the true heart of the conflict lies more in strategy and manipulation rather than physical fighting.
That said, I wish Soraya had felt a little more powerful earlier. Throughout much of the plot, she lacks a decent amount of agency, to me. She simply makes impulsive choices and then is swept away by the consequences. Her blossoming does come, but it came rather late, and I wish she’d been a bit more proactive, somehow.
In the end, though, Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a more than decent fantasy standalone. The fairy tale atmosphere is strong, the characters complicated and interesting, and the worldbuilding excellent. It isn’t a perfect book for me, but I had a good time!
Overall rating: 8/10