Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
Verdict: a good enough one-time read with an interesting folklore basis
For a fairy-tale-esque read that actually has a few surprises, for an MC who is actually pretty dark but without being too whiny about it, for some pretty dope myth and folklore inclusion
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.
My biggest takeaway from this book is that it was much better than I expected, but still not particularly mind-blowing because I had low expectations. I know that might sound weird: why did I write a whole post months ago about how I was anticipating this book if my expectations were kind of low? And to that I say that even if I don’t expect a book to blow my mind with originality, it can still fill a pleasant role as a somewhat predictable but still enjoyable read.
Well, I was half right. It wasn’t nearly as predictable or flat as I expected! What a joyful surprise! But it still didn’t blow me away, and that’s pretty much down to the main character, Soraya. She just didn’t really interest or appeal to me. She had the cool maybe I’m the bad guy after all vibe, but it was loaded with enough self-pity that it turned me off pretty quick. Thankfully the self-loathing tirades were typically short enough not to really drag me out of the story, but they are still the ultimate backbone of the book: Soraya thinks she’s evil and worthless and that’s just tiring to me.
That said, the world was a fantastic blend of history and myth that was tweaked just enough to fit the needs of the story. The Persian folklore that so much of the story is based on just made me want to go read the original sources (which I may well do). The notes about how language was used and adapted to fit these means were also a huge plus for a language lover like me. Seriously, read the author’s note at the end of the book, because it’s really really cool how Bashardoust did it.
I’m fine with there being minimal romance in a book, but this was minimal and yet seemed to be such a driving force of characters’ actions at times. The balance was off, making something that was ostensibly minuscule take on disproportionately huge importance.
Ultimately what kept this book moving along nicely was that there was far more happening far more quickly than I personally expected, creating a nice clean division of the book into two parts with a clear “Before” and “After” that kept things from getting slow. I appreciated the folklore basis of the story, but the characters just didn’t suck me in; I’m all set with finishing this one book about them.
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