Book Review : Serpent & Dove

Book Review : Serpent & DoveSerpent & Dove (Serpent & Dove, #1) by Shelby Mahurin
Published by HarperTeen on September 3rd 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic, Love & Romance, Occult & Supernatural, Romance
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four-stars

An alternative cover edition for this ISBN can be found here.
Bound as one to love, honor, or burn.
Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.
Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou's, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.
The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou's most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.
And love makes fools of us all.

I was a little nervous to read Serpent & Dove due to the hype that surrounded the debut novel. I was afraid it would be another over-hyped YA fantasy novel that actually was not any good when I finally got around to reading it. Thankfully, however, that was not the case with Serpent & Dove at all. I was surprised to find a strong-willed heroine who was witty, resourceful, and hilarious, an interesting magic system, and a well-handled romance of the mortal-enemies-forced-into-marriage-by-circumstances-out-of-their-control-trope. The only things lacking for me in this creative, fun novel which takes our own history of witch hunts and burnings at the stake and transforms it into a whole new, fantastical world at war was that it took me a little to get into the novel and figure out what was going on, and the fact that almost everyone in the main cast of characters is secretly related to different, but extremely important people, something that becomes quite stale after it is done so often. I also found the main villain to be a bit of a letdown as well.

 

Despite these minor downsides, I read half of the book immediately in one sitting. I did struggle quite a bit at first to figure out what was going on in Serpent & Dove in the beginning. I knew that main character Louisa “Lou” and her best friend Coco were thieves and disguised as men, but beyond that, I was confused by the time period, where the world-took place (I’m still not sure about this, but I know the characters speak French), and why the characters were in a brothel. Though I wished a little more about the world had been explained right away, other readers might find the mystery and slower reveal of information enticing. Despite initially considering putting the book down due to my confusion at what was going on, I quickly got swept up in this unique world full of witches and witch-hunts, the interesting magic that involved the use of patterns and equivalent exchange, and mostly, my love for main character Lou, who is quite frankly, a freaking riot.

 

“‘Don’t pretend to know me.’

‘I know if you aren’t swearing or singing about well-endowed barmaids, something is wrong.'”

 

Lou has been in hiding for years, making a living as a thief, and using her magical witch powers very sparingly to avoid detection. So when she finds herself forced into marriage to a very pious, but attractive witch-hunter named Reid, things go anything but smoothly. But instead of letting her new circumstances get her down, Lou stubbornly rebels. She refuses to buy dresses with the money she is given and has pants tailored for her, sings “Big Tiddy Liddy” to horrify the staunchly religious witch-hunters who don’t even usually marry and are celibate, and investigates a forbidden part of her new home in the Witch-Hunter’s Tower to find out what they are doing against witches. There, she is able to secretly practice her magical abilities to gather strength, for the witch that is hunting her is coming.

 

“That was the trouble with magic. It was subjective. For every possibility I considered, another witch could consider a hundred different ones. Just as no two minds worked the same, no two witches’ magic worked the same. We all saw the world differently.”

 

I really liked how magic is portrayed in Serpent & Dove. Magic lingers in the air as a sickeningly sweet smell, which I thought was very unique. As was the imagery that witches have to use golden cords in the air to manipulate patterns, that each witch actually sees differently. The use of these patterns also require equivalent sacrifices. It was like a mixture of Full Metal Alchemist and the threadwitches of The Witchlands series. What’s more is that the novel presents two different types of witches, ones that use their own blood and combinations of other substances to cast their magic, Dame Rouge, and others that use the magic of their ancestors, Dame Blanche. I really like that Lou and her friend Coco are each different types of witches, so that readers got to see both of these witchcrafts in action. I also enjoyed that they not only used these powers to look out for each other, but also were extremely supportive and protective of one another’s well being and feelings. It was a great portrayal of female friendship between two strong female characters, which I always love to read.

 

“A witch and a witch hunter bound in holy matrimony. There was only one way such a story could end–a stake and a match. I cursed myself for being so stupid–for allowing myself to get too close.”

 

It wasn’t just the female friendship that was portrayed well, but also the romance. I was a little anxious by how well a debut novelist could pull off a witch and witch-hunter romance, but she does it exceedingly well. Though Reid and Lou are on the opposite sides of a very deadly war, they manage to get to know one another beyond their differences in lifestyles and beliefs, and gain mutual respect for one another over time. So when they do finally fall in love it was well-established and believable. It didn’t happen too slow or too fast in my opinion either, which was a welcome relief in light of so many insta-love young adult books in the market. Plus, Lou and Reid’s banter and their different perspectives, combined with Lou’s infinite sass, and along with the bumps in the road they encounter, made their falling in love a really fun read that I enjoyed. Reid’s past love interest was also fairly well-handled, as she is a fully-rounded character who doesn’t exist solely to torment Reid and Lou with her very existence, unlike in A Promise of Fire.

 

The only things, other than the rough pacing at the beginning of the novel (which may not even bother some readers), was that ¾ of the way and even further to the ending of Serpent & Dove we find out that two more characters are related to very famous and important people, on top of the one character that we already knew had a famous mother (and later find out has a famous father too, to top it off). It was just a little ridiculous that all of these people with important genes found themselves together and that it was all revealed in such a short period of time. I pictured the Oprah meme, “you get a famous relative! AND YOU get a famous relative!” Like come on, at least spread all the reveals out a bit more if you really have to make all these characters related to the famous and powerful.

 

The only other gripe that I had was that the main villain of the novel, La Dame des Sorcières, the leader of the White Witches, wasn’t that scary or intimidating. In fact, I felt kind of letdown by her characterization. I expected her to be insane in a I’m-as-sweet-as-sugar-until-you-get-in-my-way kind of way. And I do feel that the author attempted to do exactly that, but it was a misfire. I found the witches in the beginning of the novel in the parade using citizens as meat shields against the witch hunters, or Chaussers as they are known,  more intimidating than their leader, who is also known as Morgane Le Blanc. I also found the Chaussers in their religious zealousness and burning of witches, and the referring to them as “it”s and not “she”s (there are no male witches), pretty intimidating. Perhaps the author will up the ante for La Dame des Sorcières in the sequel to Serpent & Dove, but she certainly didn’t unnerve me like her followers did in this novel.

 

Despite the famous relatives and weak villain, the rest of Serpent & Dove was an extremely strong debut novel, with interesting magic, solid character development, and a promising romance. If you like young adult fantasy, this is the book for you. I needed the sequel to Serpent & Dove like yesterday and I honestly cannot wait to see what else the author writes next.

four-stars
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Book Review : Serpent and Dove - Blogging with Dragons

Posted May 8, 2020 in Book Reviews

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2 responses to “Book Review : Serpent & Dove

  1. I really loved this one a lot, one of my favorite reads of last year! Lou is just about one of my favorite YA heroines, she’s got (as you put it) sass and will cut you if it means she gets to stay alive. But I TOTALLY agree with you, that there was a lot of convenient things that happened at the end to tie up the narrative. I also (for one of the first times ever) wish this had been a standalone instead of a duology, I would have loved a self-contained story for this one. That said, I’m highly anticipating Blood & Honey!

    • Me too! It was such a breath of fresh air! I see what you mean! I think if it were just a standalone maybe there would have been a lot less of these conveniences. That being said, I enjoyed it immensely and I really hope the sequel can live up to it.

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