“Girl, Serpent, Thorn” by Melissa Bashardoust

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Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

. So Girl, Serpent, Thorn sounded rather interesting despite the fact I’ve gone off YA a bit recently or maybe I’ve become a bit more picky about what I want to read when I don’t have nearly as much time to read as I used to. What piqued my interest in this book was it was clear that it was set in a slightly different world to most of the young adult fantasy settings that are usually a riff on Western European countries. I haven’t come across many Persian inspired settings before, so I was looking forward to seeing a Persian inspired story by an own voices author.

The story follows Soraya who is essentially a Princess, the sister of the Shah. Soraya’s touch is fatal to all living things (except plants) so she is unable to touch anyone, (think Rogue from the X-Men) which is understandably a tad problematic for her. As a result of her curse Soraya lives apart from her family and society as a whole and roams the secret passages of the palace and tends her rose garden. However, an encounter with a mysterious prisoner inspires her to find a way break her curse.

As this is a YA book suffice to say there is romance element as well. I felt like there was a little bit of insta-love going on here. This perhaps this makes sense considering the circumstances in which Soraya lives and perhaps someone who has never been able to touch someone else would be more likely to fall hard for the first person who shows them any kind of positive romantic attention so I’ll let it slide.

Probably my favourite aspect of the book was the references to Persian culture and Zoroastrian beliefs and practices for example the Dakhmen towers correlation to the real-life Towers of Silence. I also really liked the different demons, even though they were called “divs” which in the British vernacular means “idiots” basically which I couldn’t help finding a little amusing. The more humanlike Pariks were also pretty cool. There’s also LGBTQ representation.

Another thing I really liked was how pace-y the book was. It really was a rollercoaster of a plot without feeling like the plot was being lost. There were numerous times Soraya was in genuine peril and had to use her quick wits to find a way out. It felt quite tense at times and there was a real sense of stress and peril but in a good way, not in a way that made the book difficult to read.

Some criticisms I might have would be that the other characters perhaps felt a little underdeveloped and one dimensional. I felt Soraya was a really strong character but some of the others just felt a bit…well boring really.  I also saw the main twist coming from a mile away but it didn’t detract anything for me.

I would say that I was really surprised by this book. I don’t usually mention covers in my reviews, but the cover for this one is really cool; I know snakes are having their moment lately, but this cover stands out as particularly stunning.

This novel was a little bit different, the way the story developed and the relationships that Soraya has with the different characters were all written really well, and the eventual outcome felt fresh and interesting. The Persian inspired setting and the fairy tale influences all came together to elevate it above the usual YA fare. A fairy tale with bite!

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