Book Review: Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Serpent & Dove
SERPENT & DOVE by Shelby Mahurin (Published by HarperTeen in 2019)

My Rating: ★★★★☆

Wow, what a ride! This book has EVERYTHING I want in a YA fantasy novel—a richly-imagined world, an enemies-to-lovers romance, a fast-paced plot, strong main characters, and well-drawn side characters—and I stayed up until 2 AM to finish it, despite the fact that I had to be up at 6 AM the next day. I found myself immediately and helplessly sucked into the world, and there was nothing I could do but to succumb to the momentum of the story.

First off, though, I should probably emphasize how much Serpent & Dove is my thing, starting with the way it opens. This is one of those novels that flings you in the middle of the action and builds the world as it goes, often hastily and in broad strokes, and it doesn’t pause long enough to explain anything thoroughly. This may not sit well with some of the more seasoned high-fantasy readers, but as a casual fan of the genre, this is my sweet spot when it comes to world-building—detailed and evocative without bogging down the story.

Then there’s also the plausibility of the setting. The world is basically 17th-century France, if 17th-century France had magic, ‘real’ witches, and English as the main language, but I found the opulence, religious fervor, and hysteria portrayed well enough, and I’m not really nitpicky about period details. Mahurin spends more time setting pieces in place for the plot, which makes it so propulsive and compulsively readable, and it worked well enough for me.

Another thing that I loved about this book was the romance: it’s an enemies-to-lovers romance (my favorite romance trope) between a witch and a witch-hunter (which I didn’t know was my favorite kind of enemies-to-lovers trope until this) with one or two steamy scenes, so of course I’m here for it. In Serpent & Dove, we follow Lou, a fugitive witch, as she steals and lies her way around the city in order to survive, and Reid, a witch-hunter—or Chasseur (soldier) for the Church—who persecutes witches. Lou is your typical bad-ass, foul-mouthed heroine who turns out to be a real softie under her daredevil exterior, but Reid is a little more atypical for a male hero—he reminds me a bit of Steve Rogers, with his solemn moral principles, his insistence on the rules, and his old-fashioned gallantry. It makes Lou’s pestering of him all the more fun to watch, and his unravelling even more delicious.

And finally, I loved the side characters in this book almost as much as the main characters. Coco is Lou’s fierce best friend and protector, and Ansel is Reid’s young protégé, but he’s more of a cinnamon roll than a soldier, really. I especially loved watching Ansel grapple with his prejudice against witches, and how he eventually came to see Lou not as a witch, but as his friend, as a person. Reid also does this, of course, but compared to Ansel, his struggle was more violent and drawn-out, and filled with too much needless angst and denial.

So in the end, if I’ve been harping about how it’s exactly my thing, why only four stars? Well, for one, I’m not a fan of the arranged-marriage trope, which we also see in this book. For me, it’s difficult to create believable conditions for an arranged marriage to happen in the first place, and it was completely unbelievable here. It was a ridiculously contrived plot twist that the story could have done without.

Second, the book cashes in on a lot of tropes and clichés about good and evil. Personally, I prefer more complex and sympathetic villains, so I found the the main villain here disappointingly one-dimensional—bloodthirsty, maniacal, and without any redeeming qualities. And while there were some promising morally grey areas that could have been explored, Mahurin doesn’t go into them, probably in favor of keeping the plot moving. It was a shame, because this book had an interesting combination of religious and political themes that I would have wanted her to delve deeper into.

All in all, though, this was still a stay-up-all-night page turner, and the minor flaws weren’t noticeable enough for me to put it down. I loved it and I’ve been anxiously awaiting the sequel since I finished. Serpent & Dove is definitely a book I’d recommend to YA fantasy fans everywhere.

I read this as part of Asha’s #Februwitchy Readathon challenge, and I’m glad I was able to get one book in! How about you, have you read Serpent & Dove or any book about witches recently? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!

Find me on Goodreads! | Read from February 27-28, 2020

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