A review copy was generously provided by Macmillan Audio for review.
I’ll be honest – a large reason why I requested this book was the cover – I mean, have you seen it? Girl, Serpent, Thorn is seriously one of the best cover designs of 2020. Cover judgements aside, the description of this book made it seem super interesting – a standalone YA fantasy that pulls inspiration from Sleepy Beauty and Persian folklore (honestly, the fact it was a standalone was a huge selling point).
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.
The struggle of having a fantasy be a standalone book is that a whole lot of world building has to happen in a very short time. In the case of Girl, Serpent, Thorn, the author seemed to struggle at times to find a balance between world building and moving the plot forward. Between the fast paced plot and creating the setting – the book on a whole was rushed and could have used more chapters to better tell the story. After all of the effort the author put into the world building, part of me wants the author to write a spinoff that takes place in this world. However, the best part of this book was how atmospheric the writing was – it really set the tone for the fairytale vibe.
Soraya was a fascinating study in what prolonged isolation and neglect can do to a person. For her entire life, she had been hidden away and deprived of touch – treated like a monster by some of those who knew of her existence and treated distantly by the rest. Over the course of the book, we got to see her experience attention, touch, and affection for the first time. We also got to read about how her naiveté slowly evolved to cleverness and resourcefulness – altogether, she experienced a huge amount of growth over a relatively short period. Also, she had a great love interest and romantic arc – they were truly a perfect pair.
My biggest issue with the cast of characters is that a lot of them were useless to the plot – Soraya’s brother, childhood best friend, and her mother were all totally underused characters. Outside of small plot points towards the beginning and end, these characters really didn’t have any subplots or contributions to the story. I wish they had been more involved or developed and I think this is one area that would have benefited from the book being longer.
If you’re tired of the same old fairytale retellings over and over – Girl, Serpent, Thorn is the book for you. It mixes elements from Sleeping Beauty and Persian Folklore (footnote: if you’re interested in Persian folklore, the author made some reading suggestions in this interview). This book would be great for people looking for a fantasy but who don’t want to commit to a whole series (woohoo standalone!). While not perfect, it’s definitely made me want to read Melissa Bashardoust’s first book ASAP. 4/5