On its publication date, I’m shouting about one of my most anticipated books of the year: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust. Thank you so much to Kate Keehan and Niamh Anderson at Hodder for sending me an ARC of this beautiful, mesmerising book in exchange for an honest review.
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.
Bashardoust has such an evocative, beautiful style of writing that I never fail to get completely entranced by. It happened with her debut Girls Made of Snow and Glass and it happened again with this gorgeous tale inspired by Persian mythology. I love how her stories feel like legends of old, with this magic surrounding them. Also, the fact that they’re so enveloping in terms of plot and scale, yet are perfectly encapsulated as standalones really shows her skill. She really excels at reimagining and adapting fairy-tales through her own, utterly unique lens.
Here, she has woven such a lush, rich fantasy with an expansive mythology and intricately detailed world that I could easily envision. The mythology felt really fleshed out and enjoyable, showing how she had brought in elements of Persian mythology, but had tinkered with them just enough to create an intoxicating, original tale. Basically, Bashardoust has cemented herself as an auto-buy author for me.
I really loved Soraya as a protagonist as she had such a strong voice and I really enjoyed spending time in her head. She’s no clear-cut Disney princess, instead she’s a morally grey, conflicted almost anti-heroine. Her whole life has been spent in isolation and fear of herself, stewing her emotions up in such a way that leads to a really believable pull between light and dark. This is fundamentally her story, the events unfold around her own journey of self-discovery and search for her identity. I also loved how dark she went at times, as often authors hold their protagonists back from truly awful acts but Soraya goes there in order to protect herself and her people.
The rest of our characters are also really strong and well-crafted. Their appearances are often deceiving, with far more depth to them than meets the eye. They all have their own loyalties and secrets that gradually come to light. The villain in particular is a fascinating character, with their toxicity hiding in the background of their character with subtle hints leading up to the big reveal. Manipulation lies at the heart of the book, as well as a lot of discussion around our perceptions of ourselves and others. Also, the romance in the book feels very natural and builds gradually, rather than being insta-love. The progression is thought-out and believable, with the chemistry crackling beneath the whole time.
Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a gorgeous, sapphic fairy-tale that will cast a spell on you from a master of the form.