Buy Girl, Serpent, Thorn
Regular price $19.06
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Reviewer: Melissa on July 7, 2020
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a slow burn, YA queer fairy tale that will be completely unique to most Western readers. I say to most readers because, as Melissa Bashardoust makes clear in the Author’s Note, there are a wide variety of inspirations for this tale, including her lifelong love of fairy tales, particularly “Sleeping Beauty,” the concept of the poisonous girl in the garden from “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” and a more recent desire to know more about the myths and legends of her own, Persian, culture. By mixing a variety of inspirations, Bashardoust creates something that will seem completely original, even to other Persian people—I know because I asked an Iranian friend when I saw it being hailed as “an original fairy tale” by some of the critics, and one of the central aspects of the story was something she hadn’t heard of—but is also grounded in some established folklore.
As most of my friends will know, I value well-developed characters above most things. It’s part of the reason that I often reach for emotional, contemporary books as opposed to fantasy because I assume, perhaps wrongly, that that latter will focus on the world building at times to the exclusion of the character’s psychology. (And it certainly is an issue with some of the fantasy series that I’ve read.) It isn’t the case with Soraya, however.
After the prologue, which sets up the premise, we are dropped straight into an important place in both the fantasy world that Bashardoust has created and Soraya’s state of mind. We see Soraya viewing the entirety of the world, alone, from her spot on the roof of Golvahar, and we can already tell that she will be a character who is used to being hidden away, but who, understandably, resents her inconsequential place within the royal family. This is made all the more obvious because she is viewing the procession of her family and the court coming back to their home for the spring, the only time of year that they spent even remotely near her. You know that they’re at a point ripe for action to happen as their return collides with Soraya’s feelings of isolation, jealousy, and need for belonging, something she hasn’t felt from her family in years, if ever. From this moment, Bashardoust takes Soraya to places that I never would’ve expected, and she grows in ways that I had never anticipated.
For those who are big into SFF, you’ll be interested in the world building. I’m happy to say that Bashardoust delivers a richly developed fantasy world beginning with the story that Soraya’s mother tells her over and over as a child. It starts “There was and there was not,” and in so doing, Bashardoust creates not only a parallel reality that will go on to become very meaningful as the novel continues, but also gives the allusion that the story Soraya’s mother will relate is both just a story and also something that is very much not just a story, but a reality, one that could have deadly consequences if its message is not heeded. It contains “a fantastical, fictionalized, and truncated version of Zoroastrianian beliefs from ancient times” that is focused on the idea of a creator and a destroyer, is populated by a variety of divs, and other figures from or based on amalgamations of characters from Persian folklore—all of which gives the world a vibrant world that will draw readers in immediately and make them want to suspend their disbelief and accept that magical elements can and do happen. Even the title Girl, Serpent, Thorn is such that readers might wonder about the meaning behind each of the elements. Moreover, it will keep readers guessing until the answers are resolved.
Finally, I mentioned above that it’s a slow burn, by which I meant that it’s a slow burn, queer romance. I’m not going to give anything away about who the love interest is, but I will say that early on, there is a suggestion that Soraya once hoped to marry a girl when she was a young child. However, other than that moment, it takes a very long time before a same sex romance comes up, to the point where I wondered if it really would be the queer fairy tale that I had been promised when I picked it up. So, yes, it is, but you’ll need to wait quite awhile for that be fully fleshed out and even then, this is a very chaste example of love between two teen girls.
I really don’t want to say anything else—you deserve to experience Girl, Serpent, Thorn in all it’s glory yourself, just like I did—except to say that this book is highly recommended by myself. It will draw even those who aren’t huge SFF readers in from the very first page.
Buy Girl, Serpent, Thorn today—release day—for a great price!