Second Hand Pages

Princess or Monster: Girl, Serpent, Thorn Book Review

“You could kill me with a single touch.
Why should you ever be afraid of anyone?”

I’m a repeat reader, and I will proudly say it. I read Bashardoust debut ‘Girls Made of Snow and Glass’ in 2017 and simply loved it. I’m always a fan of queer books and even more so when it’s a fantasy based story.

Fast forward a few years and I patiently waited for this novel to come to fruition. I was generously provided an ARC by the publisher and I’m still suffering from a book hang over – months later!

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Author: Melissa Bashardoust
Publisher: Flat Iron Books
Format/Source: ARC

From GoodReads: 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.

Plot: ★★★★
World: ★★★★ 1/2
Writing: ★★★★★
Character Development: ★★★★★

There was and there was not….

…a princess and a monster, who yearned for more. I fell in love with Girl, Serpent, Thorn from the moment I opened the book.

As with Bashardoust first novel Girls Made of Snow and GlassGirl, Serpent, Thorn is a lushly written fantasy. In it we follow Soraya, the recluse twin sister of Sorush, the Shah (king) of Atashar. She is a cursed princess, unable to touch living creatures without causing death – with the exception of plants. Soraya spends her days in her walled in rose garden or slipping through the walls of her palace, born royalty but never truly belonging to the world around her.

After learning of her brother’s impending marriage, Soraya begins to question the very truths she believes about herself – resulting in a convergence of events that brings Soraya within reach of breaking the curse that has plagued her.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn is heavily based in Persian mythology and is fabulously rich in detail. Bashardoust does takes the traditional method of world building and twists it, allowing the world to be introduced via in world fairy tales and stories that Soraya herself gifts the reader.

Moving between the fairy tales that Soraya has grown up with and Soraya’s POV the novel moves quickly and pulls you along, as if caught in the undercurrent of a soothing river. Bashardoust cements her place as one of the strongest world builders in her genre with the ability to construct a world while propelling us forward at lightening pace.

*I particularly enjoyed the author’s note at the rear of the novel which delves more into the lore and the culture. It’s worth a read, as are the recommended readings suggested!

Girl, Serpent, Thorn is very much a character driven novel. Much of the novel revolves around Soraya’s shift in self worth and her perspective on the world. Soraya is a morally grey character – a character trope I love very much. She holds a power, her poisonous skin, that will bring death to anything it touches, yet she refuses to wield it for evil or power. Instead, she thrives in her garden, a place she can bring life to.

While there is and there is not a love triangle, I was delighted with the relationship between Soraya and her love interests.

It’s the best parts of enemies to lovers, human falling for supernatural and slow burn romances – yet it didn’t stop there. Twist that a bit more and add a healthy dose of sapphic love and here we are: the delicious OTP that is Soraya and Parvaneh.

“Parvaneh seemed to be made of the night. She wore it like a gown, draped over skin that shimmered in the moonlight”

UGH! Can I just swoon here for the rest of my life?!

Admittedly, it does take a good while to get to the sapphic relationship, but the anticipation and build up is well worth the wait. I would probably say that my one complaint is that we did not get enough scenes with these two – HOWEVER, it is Soraya’s story, and I understand that entirely.

Entwined in the story is a theme a self acceptance, of self worth. Laced between actions and statements, Soraya grapples with who she is at the core, and what it means to be loved – thorns and all. There was so much about Soraya that I related to, understood, and I loved her because of those flaws and struggles – not despite them. The hurt of not being heard, of not being accepted by your own family, of being drowned out by the noise of the world – her yearning to just be loved. Each singular block added to the wall that she built and hid behind inside her own emotionally guarded garden.

“It’s time for you to become who you were meant to be.”

It’s hard to dive much deeper without giving large spoilers. The emotional depth and drive found in each character creates such a multifaceted tale that it is difficult to pin down. This novel does a wonderful job exploring what it means to tread the line between monster and heroine, each one overlapping the other.

Like with Bashardoust’s GMoSaG, nothing is quite what it seems. Not with the characters, the setting, or the story itself. Hints, twists and reveals – both disasterous and beautiful – nestle themselves between a journey that comes full circle, breaking the entire kingdom free from it’s chains and blossoming into a wild and rich ride.

“Even after everything she had seen – demons and sorcerers and curses – there was nothing more astonishing or magical […] than being able to touch Parvaneh.”

tl;dr

Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a deliciously lavish expose on what it means to reevaluate your self worth and what it truly means to be a monster. Told in a mixture of in world fairy tales and Soraya’s own voice, Bashardoust shows us that nothing is ever truly good or evil, instead we all own pieces of both. Entwined between the pages is a slow burn sapphic romance, a story of a kingdom struggling to become whole again, and a family whose secrets may just tear the foundation of their entire world apart. Girl, Serpent, Thorn is an exquisite tale of magic, betrayal, and learning to love – thorns and all.

About the Author:

Melissa Bashardoust (pronounced BASH-ar-doost) received her degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, where she rediscovered her love for creative writing, children’s literature, and fairy tales and their retellings. She currently lives in Southern California with a cat named Alice and more copies of Jane Eyre than she probably needs. Girls Made of Snow and Glass is her first novel.

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