Desert Isle Keeper
Girl, Serpent, Thorn
Nothing will make you relate to the heroine of Girl, Serpent, Thorn more than months of life lived during an unceasing quarantine. Soraya, too, is forever stuck in her own palace on the pain of death – and the deaths of those around her. But the tale Bashardoust weaves for the reader is enchanting and beautiful, sharp-edged and ragged, but tender at the soul.
Soraya is a Persian princess living under the heavy weight of a curse levied upon her head. Due to a bargain her mother had made as a teenager when meeting a div (demon) in the woods, the div cursed Soraya in the cradle – the firstborn daughter is doomed to be poisonous to the touch – anyone who comes in contact with her skin will sicken and die.
Her mother and twin brother Sorush keep Soraya in a walled palace and hide her from their people for fear that she may hurt others. Lovely, lonely and starved for human contact, she waits for her family’s return when they leave their home on a winter sabbatical every year. The only constructive contact she has with any other living beings are the plants she tenderly cultivates in her lush private garden.
This spring, her brother and his new fiancé, Laleh – Soraya’s lifelong best friend, who has drifted from her and seemingly taken her place in the royal family’s doings – return with much news. Sorush was attacked by a div during their vacation, but the new shah is unharmed – and he has brought the demon with him and is holding it in the dungeon. They believe that the div might hold the key to lifting the curse on Soraya and thus freeing her from her cloister.
Soraya is ecstatic, but her mother forbids her contact with the div, calling it untrustworthy and fearing that it will harm her with its lies. Soraya holds her peace until her brother and Laleh’s wedding approaches That day, she meets Azad, the son of a merchant who claims to have watched her from afar. He offers to protect her and to guide her on her journey to speak with the div – who appears in the form of a girl her age named Parvaneh. Opposing her is Ramin, son of the palace captain of the guard and Laleh’s brother, always trying to outwit her with cruelties. The div soon reveals something unpleasant and possibly untrue about Soraya’s mother and Soraya must try to puzzle out the truth of her own existence. With the permission of her brother, she begins to unravel the truth behind her existence, and must make a choice about her future that will rock her world for all time.
Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a fascinating fairytale about identity, full-throated living and the very thin line between good and evil – and the complex falsity of black and white morality. It’s a book about Soraya’s coming of age more than a romance, though when the book chooses to focus on love it always has something interesting to say.
Soraya is a wonderfully complex girl. She is flawed, good at heart, and ultimately caring of others – a smart and developing leader. Laleh and Parvaneh – as well as Azad and Sorush – are just as flawed. No evil is pure, no goodness is uncomplicated.
The world around Soraya, too, is portrayed in a beautiful way, the worldbuilding of the novel complex but easy to understand. You can smell the flowers and watch the poison pulse through her veins; you can feel the wind rush through her hair and smell the sunbaked vistas. Melissa Bashardoust is a prodigious talent, and Girl, Serpent, Thorn promises much more beyond this incredibly promising start. I was hooked and enraptured from the first paragraph on.
If you’re looking for a love story, though, this is only a fraction of what the book offers. A story about independence, growth, familial love, and learning how to lead, Girl, Serpent, Thorn tells truths while spinning up a fantasy universe. It’s a unique experience, fresh and warm, a true treat.
Buy it at: Amazon, Audible, or your local independent bookstore
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Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier