Review by Ella Konrath
Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust presents an enchanting blend of fantasy and feminism as its protagonist, a young princess tethered to a deadly curse, ventures out on a thrilling journey. Bashardoust weaves the modern-day tenets of feminism into the piece by confronting and dismantling female stereotypes that have been reinforced for centuries in fairy tales—that women are the weaker sex (overly emotional, bound to the domestic sphere) and damsels in distress (who lie in wait for prince charming to come and rescue them).
In the fantastical kingdom of Atashar, the eighteen-year-old princess, Soraya, is not a normal girl. Blurring the line between human and monster, Soraya is human-like in appearance but beneath her skin runs a deadly green poison that will kill any living being she touches. She’s cursed, or so she’s been told, by one of the dangerous creatures known as Divs, that live North of the kingdom in Mount Azrur and serve their leader, the Shahmar.
While Soraya’s twin brother, Sorush, prepares to become the Shah (the king of Atashar), Soraya remains hidden in the shadows, battling with her identity and struggling to find a place in society. When Soraya gets angry, her green veins bulge to the surface of her skin; the angrier she is, the more monstrous she appears. She battles with two options: to be a human—composed, silent, and submissive—or express her true emotions and morph into a monster.
There is no place in society for Soraya to straddle between the two worlds. Nightmares of permanently transforming into a monster permeate her dreams, prompting her to recoil into a state of reservation, hidden away from others and “folding herself away without complaint” (122). When a young and charming man, Azad, shows up in her life, Soraya begins to feel like more than a shadow as if “she was taking shape under his gaze” (36). Ignited with a spark of romance, and at the discovery that there is a Div in the castle dungeon who may have answers for her, Soraya takes the leap to leave the confines of her castle and search for a way to break the curse. In an exhilarating twist, Bashardoust flips the fairytale on its head when Soraya is forced to be the hero in her own story. Her journey becomes one of self-discovery containing enthralling surprises, trickery, and a passionate romance with another ‘monster.’ Throughout Girl, Serpent, Thorn, Bashardoust effectively conveys the suppressed frustrations literally boiling under the surface of Soraya’s skin until she bursts into the person she’s meant to be—poison, thorns, and all.
Soraya realizes that she doesn't have to compromise between being human and monster. At the end of the book, we discover that “Soraya no longer had to choose between one piece of herself and another. She could be whole” (311). The ending feels satisfactory and complete as Soraya finds and embodies an identity that represents her: one of both femininity and strength, grace and power. Bashardoust uses Soraya to redefine the female roles in fairy tales by melding modern-day feminism with classic fairy tale components. This serves to leave the audience in a magical trance meanwhile allocating power to groups that are typically represented as submissive or weak in classical fairy tale literature. Overall, it is a gripping read saturated with charm and adventure.
Genre: YA Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Fiction
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication date: May 2020