I had high hopes for Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Mashardoust when I started it. I’m kind of fascinated with this poisonous to the touch premise that I’ve seen around and it kind of kills me that every time I’ve read a book with it, I’m always disappointed. See, on the surface, this seems like such an incredible premise and I just know that it could take me to some amazing places with brilliantly woven stories of intrigue and emotional trauma. I’m still waiting for the story that will actually bring me on that much-anticipated journey.
So, what’s wrong with this one?
I feel like Girl, Serpent, Thorn had all the right ideas and none of the execution. This book started of brilliantly, I’ll be honest. The set-up of the world was expertly done, especially with all the research that ultimately ended up inspiring much of the tale. I loved the dichotomy we were presented with and was especially fond of the relationship structures at the start. With the first few chapters, you genuinely felt that everything was building up for this to be a pretty exceptional novel.
And then we started to get to know the main character.
Then the events of the book started moving forward.
And suddenly it all fell apart.
I’m not sure if it was the characters or the writing.
Honestly, it was probably a mixture of both.
There’s a sense with this book that Bashardoust had a lot of brilliant ideas, but couldn’t quite bring them out in a way that felt organic. While she knew, surface level, that the characters would feel certain things and act in specific ways, the writing never fully was able to capture that. Soraya, as a character, never really made me believe she was someone who had spent her whole life deprived of love and affection. Despite Bashardoust recognizing that there was bound to be emotional trauma involved in living one’s life that way, she did a pretty poor job of portraying her character with that affliction.
Soraya’s motivation is there, sure, but it never felt genuine to me.
And I feel like this was the problem with literally every character in the novel. Minus, perhaps, the exception of Soraya’s mother. But even then, much of it was surface level as with all the other characters. The impact of her motivation, decisions, and actions were muddled as a result of their portrayal. Even Parvaneh was like this.
It’s amazing to me, really, that all of these characters can have such incredible backstories, brilliant setups to motivate them, and then somehow constantly fall flat within the portrayal of their emotions. It made connecting with them and their story incredibly difficult time and time again. And this went on until I felt like I was hearing a story secondhand from a poor storyteller who knew nothing about how to make you feel or care about anything. I felt like a bystander in a fuzzy documentary, unable to truly experience anything with the characters.
Everyone. Literally everyone. If they’re not annoying simply for how they act within the story, they become annoying when they have excellent motivations and somehow can’t show the necessary emotions that would come from them.
Of all the characters, I hated Soraya and Azad the most. They were both irritating, cringe-worthy, eye-roll-inducing idiots. And they were like this for 99% of the novel. Any emotion they showed felt surface level and fabricated. The way they acted was ridiculously immature, especially when it came to Azad. Given his history, I expected better. I expected more than some sort of child-like rendition of someone I was supposed to feel for and, at times, fear.
Parvaneh and Soraya’s mother irritated me as well, but largely because they had such amazing histories and I never felt like I was hit with the full emotional punch from them. I’m fairly certain this was a fault of the writing, though. When you spend so much time with your exposition, you lose a lot. For this story, that meant losing any connection I possibly could have had with characters who, for all intents and purposes, could have been exceptional.
That writing, though.
And I think this is where my biggest complaint about Girl, Serpent, Thorn comes in. I hated the writing. For as much as Bashardoust had all these incredible plots and impressive character backstories, the writing flattened all of it. Nearly everything is shrouded in this sense that the author just didn’t know how to connect all the major points of her story together.
Also, that bit where she goes on her journey with Azad to figure out how to get the feather? That was some of the laziest “get from my introduction to a place where things actually start happening” adventure writing I have ever seen in my life. It’s the sort of thing I expect from a writer who needs a deus ex machina but can’t quite commit and still has no idea how to get to the action they really wanted to write in the first place.
Truly, I had thought that this would be an amazing book. Yet, despite its length, so much was rushed. So much was glossed over with the characters and the plots and way too much of this book was given in an expositional way rather than presented as something we could experience with the characters. The useless boring stuff? Yeah, sure…let’s go on a pointless deus ex machina-esque adventure with Azad and Soraya that really only serves to get us from point A to point B. The incredibly important pieces? Eh, I’ll have a character explain it to the other character and we’re good.
Close your eyes and listen.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t really care for the audiobook narrator on this one. I’m not quite sure what it was that I didn’t like since I can’t determine if it was the voice or if it was simply that I found the main character so annoying and began to associate the voice with her and the feeling she evoked in me. Whatever it was, I can’t think back to the names from this book without feeling annoyed at how the narrator said them. I don’t think it was her voice, I’m pretty sure it was the book.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.