There was, and there was not….
Girl, Serpent, Thorn is many things… it is a retelling of several Persian folk tales/ fairy tales, its is a fantastical coming of age story set in a world steeped in history and rich magic, it is a story about love and learning to not only trust in the love of those around you but also love yourself. Most of all though, it is an absolutely consuming and gorgeous tale.
The story follows Soraya, a cursed Princess who has known only exile and fear of her curse her entire life. Due to the machinations of a powerful demon, Soraya is cursed to be poisonous to the touch and thus her family hides her away in their summer palace to live alone and in secret, for the public can never learn of the curse upon the ruling family and the fate of their only daughter. When her twin brother, the Shah, comes to the summer palace to get married he brings with him not only the entire court but also a secret. This secret propels Soraya down a dark and twisting path of betrayal, self discovery, trials, and impossible choices.
“She had read enough stories to know that the princess and the monster were never the same. She had been alone long enough to know which one she was.”
Bashardoust created a fully realized and deeply fantastical world in this story. The word around Soraya feels rich and sumptuous, and I found myself wanting to disappear into the story every chance I got. Going into this book I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I figured it would be something along the lines of Rapunzel, with a princess locked away in a castle only to be rescued by a prince who is able to see who she really is despite her differences. However what I got was a girl who didn’t just sit in her room locked away and waiting to be rescued, but one who did what she could to rescue herself and she didn’t always do what was right or proper. I loved that Soraya wasn’t infallible, she didn’t automatically know what path to take and always have the support of those around her. On the contrary, she often did exactly the opposite of what everyone was telling her to do, and frequently chose the wrong path. She makes mistakes, some with far reaching and long lasting negative effects, but she never breaks and gives up. Every time she realizes her mistake she continues forward, adjusting course and just doing the best she can with what she has.
I loved the way Persian mythology was woven into the story, and I particularly appreciated the ‘Author’s Note’ at the end of the book where the ways various elements in this story line up with and also diverge from their origins were explained. I have to admit I am woefully under-read when it comes to Persian myths so getting that little glimpse at the end of the stories that inspired the author lit a fire under me and I will absolutely be digging into more of those stories now!
“The daughter wants to crawl onto her mother’s lap and lay her head against her mother’s chest, but she doesn’t. She never does. It’s not just a story.”
What really sealed this book as one of my favorite reads for 2020 was the narration. Every once in a while you come across a true gem of an audiobook, one that sticks with you and truly blows me away. I had 3 audiobooks like that, ones that changed me and will forever be favorites that stick with me. I now have 4. Nikki Massoud’s narration is beyond perfect for this story. As someone who is self proclaimed painfully white, I will be the first to admit I would never be able to pronounce most of the names and places in this book if I didn’t hear them first. The passion Nikki brings to her performance does more than bring this story to life, it gives it a life of its own in a way only the best audiobooks can. Her characterizations are distinct and play into the subtle traits of each person she is portraying in a masterful way.
While there were parts of the plot that dragged a little for me, especially in the first third of the book, Nikki’s narration kept me engaged and eager for more. Once the main “meat” of the plot kicked off though, this was absolutely one book I struggled to turn off and do things like, you know… sleep.
One last thing… can we talk about that COVER?! Again, one of my favorites of 2020 so far.