Girl Serpent Thorn by Melissa BarshadoustGirl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust is a YA fantasy that’s kind of like a Persian fairy tale.

Soraya is a princess who was born cursed by a div (demon) and anyone she touches dies from poison. For everyone else’s safety, she keeps to her rooms and is incredibly lonely. The only people she sees regularly are the palace’s servants.

The story opens as Soraya’s family comes back to town and she learns that her brother, the shah, is marrying her only childhood friend, Laleh. Soraya also learns that they brought a div back with them, which is the best chance she’ll break the curse.

Of course, Soraya’s forbidden from the dungeon, where the div is being held, so she has to make a choice. Will she do as she’s told, like always? Or will Soraya take her one chance at a normal life and talk to the div on her brother’s wedding day while everyone’s distracted?

When Soraya escapes her rooms, she meets Azad, the young man who helped capture the div. He knows who Soraya is, he’s not afraid of her, and he wants to help her go talk to the div. That one trip to the dungeon changes Soraya’s life more than she could ever have imagined, setting her on a journey where she needs to decide who she wants to be.

The Characters

Soraya goes on a hell of a ride in this book. My heart broke for her in the initial chapters, seeing how isolated she is. It’s especially sad to see how little interaction she has with her family. The few moments with her mother are tense and kind of sad, because they have to keep their distance. All Soraya really has are her gardens, which are lush and well-loved because her poison can’t kill plants. Meeting the div changes everything and takes her outside of the city, where she spends a lot of time with the villain, as well as her love interest.   

I can’t say much about the villain or the love interest, except to say don’t assume anything. There are some nice twists and turns related to both of these characters that left me surprised in a way that doesn’t happen often.

The Writing Style

I found the story a bit slow to get into and easy to put down for the first 10 or 15%. Once I got past that part, however, I was completely hooked! The worldbuilding is immersive and the character work is impressive, so Girl, Serpent, Thorn stuck with me after I finished reading it.

My Favourite Parts

While there’s a lot to love about this book and how it’s written, the standout element for me is Soraya’s character arc. In particular, I loved seeing her grapple with the fact that she could easily become just like the villain. Without getting into any details, I’m glad this book exists because it has a beautiful message about self-acceptance that’s so important for young adult (and adult!) readers.

Heads Up

Some of you might be wondering “but IS there an f/f relationship in this book?” And when you start reading it, you’ll REALLY wonder, especially when you see Azad and Soraya interact. All I can say is to trust me. Soraya gets the girl in the end.

The Conclusion

taras favourite lesbian booksThis was one of my favourite books of 2020 and I cannot recommend it enough. If you have any YA readers in your life, definitely pick this one up for them. And if you’ve been craving something a little different from your usual reading, get yourself a copy too! Soraya’s stuck with me since I first finished reading Girl, Serpent, Thorn earlier this year, and I suspect she’ll be with me for a long time.

Excerpt from Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

“There were more people in the procession today than usual,” Soraya said, her tongue starting to loosen. “Are they all coming for Nog Roz?”

Tahmineh froze, her back so straight and still that she resembled a marble statue. “Not only for Nog Roz,” she said at last. “Let’s go inside, Soraya joonam. I have something to tell you.”

Soraya swallowed, her fingertips cold even inside her gloves. She moved aside from the doors for her mother to enter first and then followed, still clutching the book in her hands.

She had nothing to offer her mother, no wine or fruit or anything else. Servants brought food to Soraya’s room three times a day, leaving a tray behind the door for her. People knew the shah had a reclusive sister, and perhaps they all had their own theories as to why she hid away, but none of them knew the truth, and it was Soraya’s duty to keep it that way.

The room was certainly comfortable, however. There were cushions everywhere—on the bed, on the chair, on the window seat, some on the floor—all with different textures, made from different fabrics. Overlapping rugs spread out across the entire floor, their vibrant colors a little worn over time. Every surface was covered with something soft, as though she could somehow make up for the lack of touch by surrounding herself with these artificial substitutes. Throughout the room were glass vases holding wilting roses from her garden, filling the room with the earthy smell of dying flowers. More than once Soraya had looked around and realized that this was the room of a very lonely girl.

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