Sometimes the princess is the monster.
Within the last month or so, I’ve been heavily talking with people over on Discord and joined several different servers. One of which is a writers’ Discord by Rebecca Mix called Chaos Sprinters. I love talking with people in there about books and writing. And recently we decided to start a book club on there. The first book we decided to go with is Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Barshardoust. This book has been on my TBR for some time, so I’m glad to finally get around to reading it.
- Title: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Barshardoust
- Publisher: Flatiron Books
- Originally Published: May 12, 2020
- Print Length: 311 pages
- Genres: Fantasy Fiction
- ISBN: 978-1250196149
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.
Basically the way I see this book is Sleeping Beauty but instead of the princess being cursed to forever sleep like death if she pricks her finger, everyone else goes into a forever sleep but of actual death if they touch her. Which I think is an insanely interesting concept.
If you want a sneak peak into the book, here is the link to read the first chapter.
Before going forward, I will be sharing spoilers for the book as I share my thoughts while I’m reading it. So, if you don’t want spoilers jump to the OVERALL THOUGHTS header.
My Thoughts While Reading
According to her mother, Soraya has been cursed since before she was born due to something her mother did when she had been thirteen. Of course, as it’s very quickly pointed out the curse doesn’t make sense. Why was it the firstborn daughter, and not just the firstborn? Why was everyone fine around Soraya initially until a few days after her birth? These are all things Soraya has to figure out in addition to figuring out how to break her curse.
Since it’s told very much in that classic fairy tale sense or a character who strongly looks towards them I had the distinct feeling within the first few chapters I knew exactly who Soraya would end up with and how the book would end. However, there was a still a bit of a surprise as the story takes a a turn nearing the first half. Which I was pleased about. The dashing man who came to rescue her turned out to be a demon, and in order to free herself from the curse she had to betray her family. Granted, it was her mother who willingly had her cursed in the first place. In doing this betrayal not only did she become free from her curse, but her brother became vulnerable to demons… and the dashing man turned demon got exactly what he wanted: a way to attack without being detected and the fire to be put out.
Oh, it was a good and interesting twist.
Though part of the lies her mother had told her were true. Shahmar had told the mother that he would come for her firstborn daughter. But not to curse her, but to make her his bride. Which is why her mother had a curse placed over her so no one could touch her. Thus, make it so Shahmar couldn’t make Soraya his bride. But he waited until years later than disguised himself as the dashing man, and helped nudge her in the right direction to break the curse and steal back his crown by revealing what Soraya’s mother had done. What Soraya had done to break the curse.
This leads Soraya to freeing the div (demon) in the dungeon named Parvaneh, as she opposes Shahmar, but was also his prisoner in a way. In a way, she helped Shahmar as she kept some of the truth from Soraya regarding Azad’s true identity. But Shahmar also hunts Parvaneh’s kind for sport and keeps many of them prisoner. So, Soraya agrees to team up with a div by helping Parvaneh repair the wings that Shahmar destroyed. But before they can escape, Soraya is captured and brought to Shahmar. Who admit, he never intended to come for Soraya until he learned she had been cursed and she was his only way to get back his throne. But apparently, he couldn’t bring himself to kill Soraya as he originally planned, so he takes her to Mount Arzur (the home of divs) seeing her as his equal after hearing her tell him his own story as it was her favorite.
He takes the feather from her as it’s the only thing that can make him human again, make him vulnerable to attack. She learns this later when Parvaneh finds her trying to escape the mountain (going the wrong way). Soon she learns the only way to free her country and people, as well as get help from Parvaneh’s kind of divs is to get close to Azad again to get the feather back. It’s also Parvaneh’s only chance to go back to her people.
Soraya talks to Azad about his past. And similar to Cardan in The Folk of the Air series, Azad was born under a bad star with a prophecy that his rule would have dire consequences. So, Azad was cast out with no training, while his siblings were treated as royalty. Azad wanted to impress his father, but still he didn’t get the attention he wanted. But unlike Cardan, Azad took matters into his own hands and slaughtered his family. Then he asked how to become div, which Parvaneh informed him of the process. He can only become human temporarily by killing two humans men every month.
Normally for character foils only one matches another, but all three of them match each other in a way. Or rather Soraya has a foil in both Parvaneh (how she’s trying to right her wrongs) and Azad (for everything else). I found this very interesting and couldn’t put the book down. Granted, I also wanted Soraya to end up with neither Azad or Parvaneh. She needs someone not div, but I also don’t think there’s a single other character that has been mention who would understand Soraya. So, to keep with the twists (I’m on page 220 writing this bit), I want Soraya to end up with no one. Or Azad is at least turned back into a human, but considering he knows how fully transform back into a div it would never work out that way. As he would just go right back to seeking out another div to transform back.
The next day, Azad brings Ramin to her as a gift. Allow her to get back at him for all the years he belittled her, but she realized that she was the monster in his story. The div waiting to kill his sister out of jealousy. So, she asks Azad to release him unharmed back with the humans. Then Azad takes her to his room and tells her that he wants her to kill her brother. But as she rejects the notion along with his claim that he loves her (as she can’t stop thinking about Parvaneh as he touches her), she accidently reveals that she found where Azad kept the pariks (Parvaneh’s people/sisters) prisoners. So, in an effort to cover to lies she helps Azad capture Parvaneh. Mostly to prevent Azad from killing all of her family.
However, Soraya is still determined to free her family so she needs the feather. Only to discover that Azad has destroyed it, but he has kept the simorgh (the bird who the feather came from) as a prisoner. Soraya promises to free the bird that protected her family for centuries, only to find Azad when she returns to his room. To keep up the game, she promises him that she’ll kill Sorush (her twin brother) and that she’ll be his bride. Though she’s apparently decided that she loves Parvaneh instead… I don’t ship it, but whatever. Azad agrees to her delay, but locks her up with all the reminders of his humanity. And states that this is a test of her loyalty. One in which if she fails, he’ll slaughter her entire family in front of her.
As Soraya is taken back to the city, she talks with the div. They admit they play along to Azad’s belief as a joke. Not that they actually truly think of him as their leader. And they have left Soraya alone only because they are curious what she will do. Though they might align more with Soraya, they will not act against Azad as they are not done using him. So, they give her advice that she would have more power as his consort than killing him. But she stays resolved that she’ll help kill him, and free everyone she cares about. Even going so far to use the blood on her baby blanket to try to make her skin poisonous again. Then she empties the blood water into the garden, which by morning has become way overgrown.
However, Soraya is not poisonous to the touch. So, she frees Parvaneh and tells her where the simorgh is so Parvaneh can free the bird. Their only hope to stop Azad. Parvaneh leaves to carry out that part of the plan, while Soraya waits for the execution of her brother… and apparent wedding to Azad. Just as she’s almost forced to go through with killing her brother, the simorgh arrives allowing Soraya the distraction to free her family and give Sorush a sword.
The simorgh gives Soraya a feather, which she gives to Parvaneh to turn Azad back into a human. But in the chaos, the feather goes manage to prick Azad but he kidnaps Soraya’s mother realizing that the div will no longer follow him due to his humanity. Soraya follows him up to the roof he fell onto as his transformation back into a human is complete. And the poison has returned to her veins after he slashes her mother’s throat with a dagger. Only now her skin isn’t poison, the thorns growing out of her skin are. Which she uses to kill Azad. I kind of wanted a redemption for him, but I get why he doesn’t get one. He doesn’t remember how to truly be human or live with what he had done.
After she commands the div to leave, offering them their only two options: surrender or destruction. They chose surrender. Thus, Soraya becomes the people’s protector against the div, but she doesn’t want to live with her brother’s court. Instead she goes to live with Parvaneh during the summer to winter, and will return to Golvahar when the court does in spring. The simorgh comes to Soraya one last time offering her freedom from the thorns, but Soraya turns it down much to the approval of the bird who leaves to follow the court as they travel elsewhere in the kingdom for the next season.
Overall Thoughts (Spoiler Free… Mostly)
I had mixed opinions in the beginning. Mostly as there were a bunch of terms for this fantasy world that I had to sort out. And a lot of it came in basically an information dump. Not my favorite way to get the general sense of a world, but as you get into the book it quickly starts to fall into place. Initially within the first one hundred pages I thought Girl, Serpent, Thorn would be predictable. Then things were happening so quickly, that I realized it wouldn’t be. As literally every prediction started to come to pass immediately leading to the twist.
Which isn’t too much of a twist, as all the call outs to it were there. But it still reads as a twist. The love interest isn’t the dashing man, and things aren’t going to be happily after all when the curse is lifted. Not without hell to pay first for her actions. And the curse wasn’t truly a curse, it was protection. One that the princess should’ve kept. She should’ve talked to her mother rather than being jumping at the idea of being free. Plus, she trusted the charming man when she barely knew him. And look where that brought her.
I liked it, plus then the rest of the book is Soraya trying to figure out her place in the world. Is she more div or human? Does she prefer one over the other? What does she think of herself and the poison that raced through her veins? How does she compare herself between Azad and Parvaneh? Does she resent her family for hiding her away or does she still love them? All of this gets wrapped up nicely in the final chapters of the book.
You can see the contrast between the three characters, and how they all fit together. In the end, Soraya choices which side of the foil she’s equal to. And acknowledges that she could’ve easily gone the other way if it had been required. Not dismissing that side, but accepting that it could’ve been a reality and one that she would’ve grown into had it happened. And in a way the reality that she ends with is a mixture of both worlds. An acceptance of all sides of herself. In that way, I loved the ending.
Soraya is an interesting character to read about, and the plot is fast-moving so there’s always something happening that kept me from wanting to step away from the story, and driven by her missteps that Soraya works to set right. Also, it was around Middle Eastern culture specifically Iranian culture for it’s inspiration with past and present.
So, would I recommend this book? Yes. I enjoyed and read it one sitting. Which was so at odds to the previous book I read. I would give this book 4 stars out of 5. And I would love to read other books from their author in the future. I don’t think this one will ever have a sequel and honestly I don’t think it needs one. The story is wrapped up nicely as it is.
Have you read Girl, Serpent, Thorn before? If so, what did you think of the book?
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