Proceed with caution, there may be some mild spoilers ahead.
Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a story about a bisexual princess seeking her place in the world, set against the backdrop of lush Persian mythology and folklore.
This book falls prey to some of the limitations of being a Young Adult standalone. The plot itself isn’t strong in any sense, it’s relatively predictable for the most part and the first half of the book is disparagingly trope filled – if it wasn’t for the promise of a sapphic romance, I would have happily put the book down. While I was expecting Azad to be more than he seemed, it didn’t make up for the fact that I had to sit through 150~ pages of an instalove romance. That’s also not to say that the first half of the book was bad because of the instalove, sometimes this trope can be done well and I don’t mind it.
In this instance, it wasn’t great. Soraya acted far too naive and it was ultimately unbelievable that she wasn’t somewhat wary about a man who is in love with your story and therefore, immediately in love with you. Rather, it’s kind of creepy. In my opinion, this naivety can’t even be convincingly excused by the fact that Soraya has been locked away her entire life. In addition, there wasn’t much genuine difficulty encountered by the characters. Not only was everything predictable, there weren’t any barriers that lasted more than a few pages. There wasn’t anything that prompted authentic character development. Soraya isn’t particularly compelling as a main character, despite the effort to give her this struggle with her humanity – it never truly feels as though there are stakes. The only ‘bad’ act she does can be justified, there is no truly reprehensible deed she has to overcome, or risk losing herself to her darkest proclivities. It’s a lukewarm will-they-won’t-they that lacks depth.
The saving grace of this book truly was the Persian inspired mythology, while there was little to no actual worldbuilding, the pages were brimming with gorgeous imagery. I adored that even at the end of the book the author provided a directory of sorts of all the mythology and folklore stories which inspired particular elements of the novel. Unlike the earliest endeavour in the book, the sapphic romance was well-executed, in my opinion. Despite expecting it and knowing that there was a sapphic romance in this novel, it didn’t spoil any of the build up. The only critique I’d have is that as a result of spending such a long time on the Soraya/Azad relationship, there is a tendency to view the sapphic romance as a mere addition. I think that this novel would have performed much better with more focus on the actual romance. The parallels between Soraya and Azad reduced his impact as a “villain” – this weakened the story as there didn’t seem to be a true antagonist. While this was the point, to make him more human, it didn’t have the time or the space to explore this to the depth that it needed to be effective. That’s not to say that antagonists can’t live in the grey but in this case, the integrity of the story would have remained intact with a more traditionally “evil” villain.
In short, there was a whole ton of potential here and regardless of what it lacked, the reading experience was enjoyable. Not to mention that this book deserves to be promoted and supported, there’s little LGBTQIAP+ Persian representation in YA books and this is hopefully only one of many more to come. It’s a pleasant and atmospheric read, cloaked in the refreshing advent of a new kind of fairytale.
I was provided a copy of this book for review by the publisher.