Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust is unlike anything I’ve read. With its basis in Persian mythology, there is an automatic foreignness to the story due to the fact that Persian myths are not exactly popular in modern-day storytelling. But its exoticism is much more than simple unfamiliarity. Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a dark story, darker even than anything by the Grimm brothers with their feet mutilations and eye pecking. It is also a refreshing story wherein romantic love has a minor role and marriage to royalty is not necessarily the happy ending it usually is.
One of the best parts of Girl, Serpent, Thorn is its moral ambiguity. A demon is not entirely evil, just as a hero is not entirely good. This ethical vagueness differs greatly from other myths that are so black and white as to be uncomfortably so. It also denotes a realism that normally does not appear in fairy tales. Ms. Bashardoust means for her characters, no matter their earthly or unearthly origins, to be realistic rather than caricaturish. In turn, this realism helps develop the characters in a way not usually seen in such stories.
Perhaps due to the unfamiliarity with the stories, but Ms. Bashardoust adds so many twists and red herrings as to make the story impossible to predict but so much fun to read. She throws every preconceived notion out the window in her tale. The very definition of happily ever after means something completely different. A strong sense of identity and self-confidence means more than marrying the prince. Plus, she is not afraid to shed blood. These are not honorable knights going out to slay a dragon but men fighting against tooth and claw, scales and spikes in droves. It gets ugly, and I love every minute of it.
The other great thing about Girl, Serpent, Thorn is the fact that Ms. Bashardoust treats her heroine with respect. It would be easy to make a seventeen-year-old girl who has not touched another person’s skin in those seventeen years mentally ill. After all, touch is more than a form of communication. We need to touch others almost as much as we need air or food. Yet Soraya survives this slow form of torture, providing her with the mettle she needs to overcome her current situation. Also, Ms. Bashardoust gives Soraya a family that loves and cares for her. It may not appear as such, but there are love and affection there. More importantly, there is not an evil step-anything to disrupt the family dynamic.
Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a refreshing story with its unique monsters and mythology as well as its treatment of its characters. Soraya is an impressive heroine, not afraid to get her hands dirty as well as capable of immense character growth. Because she is so fierce, in part due to her confinement and in part due to her circumstances, any romance, when it does come, is that much more poignant. If Girl, Serpent, Thorn is an indication of Ms. Bashardoust’s writing skill, I cannot wait to read more of her work.