Total Star Rating: 4.25 Stars
I’m happy to say I’m starting off the new year on a high note! Based off other reviews I’ve found, along with its impressive Goodreads rating, the gorgeous cover, I had a feeling this title was going to leave me happy that I’d decided to pick it up and give it a try.
With it being their debut novel out on the market, not much is known about Shelby Mahurin: what’s her writing style? How is her character work? Story pacing? Would I care about her characters?…It’s a bit like going on a first date with all the jittery butterflies in your stomach with the excited nervousness of uncertainty whether the relationship–you and a new author and book–will work out or not. Believe me…there’s been plenty of times where I’d thought I’d be taking a book home to meet the parents–so to speak–and ended up in disappointment: my easiest example in recent memory was my final thoughts on The Priory of the Orange Tree.
I was pleasantly surprised at how much I’d found myself enjoying this story as I’d gotten further into it. I was up late into the night on multiple occasions in order to get further along and see what would happen next instead of getting a decent amount of sleep, and thats always a sign that the book was a hit for me; needing answers instead of sleep is a guaranteed thumbs up from me.
This book brings something new to the table for the YA Fantasy genre, which is great considering how littered it’s gotten over the years with what feels like a lot of the same clichés, story arcs, etc. There’s just too many copies of the same things done over and over with just slight variations in order to avoid of plagiarism lawsuit, and while there’s still a bit of the familiar within this title, it at least presents it all in a way that’d felt new. Instead of the Fae or “The Chosen One” who’d lost their parents, and learns their the future heir of a long lost throne or whatever to change the course of history, this story brought a subject that hasn’t been touched on as much: Witchcraft. There’s been a few books and/or series released over the years, but nothing that’s really popped or kept it’s momentum to make it a more popular theme in YA Fantasy literature, which is a damn shame…I feel like there’s a lot of opportunity for some new and interesting stories to be told with them at the forefront, and not just an ally or sidekick to vampires.
Now, as far as YA Fantasy goes, I feel like this title doesn’t necessarily fit either of those categories. It feels more like a paranormal romance since the love story between the two main characters takes center stage and drives a lot of the story, and it also feels more like New Adult with how the characters develop, and because theres a more descriptive sex scene within. I’m not saying I’m a prude, but I know we live in such a trigger society and I just recognize readers who are 16+ in age will probably enjoy it more than a 12-13 year old.
In all honesty, read whatever the fuck you want to read, censorship can go shove a pole up it’s butt in my opinion...
This title has been out for a few months at the time I’m typing this review, and one thing I love about books and their fandoms is the art that gets created! I love to see what others think the characters look like, and it just adds so much to the story and my interest from a purely aesthetic point of view–hell, I’d discovered the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas from finding random fanart on Pinterest before I’d even known what it was, and now it’s one of my favorite series of all time! Serpent & Dove is still fairly new, so there’s not a whole lot of fanart out there quite yet, but the particular piece below so far has to be my favorite, and of course it’s by one of my favorite artists that I follow on Instagram!
Check it out:
Her profile on Instagram is @gabriella.bujdoso and I seriously suggest giving her a follow, her artwork is simply amazing! Now, onto the story:
What It’s About:
The Official Blurb:
Bound as one to love, honor, or burn.
Two years ago, Louise le Blanc had fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could find and steal. Unfortunately, witches like Lou are hunted by a special police force that has sworn to catch every last witch they can find, and burn them back to hell on a stake.
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 that goes back many generations, and Lou’s most dangerous enemies are hatching a plan to bring a fate worse than fire upon their enemies. As Lou and Reid struggle to try and ignore their growing feelings for each other, she must hide her deadly secret of being the very thing that he absolutely despises and hunts.
What I Liked:
- There’s Many Great Romance Tropes! We’ve got the good ole classic enemies-to-lovers trope, we’ve got the “only one bed” trope, we’ve got marriage by convenience, we’ve got one of them hides a deep secret that they never want the other to find out, and we’ve also got the sexy banter between them as a cherry on top. Overall, the romance was the big selling point for the whole story; the most exciting scenes–besides a few exceptions–were where Reid and Lou were with each other and fell in love with each other over sticky buns, sexy and witty banter, and both discovering how things are shades of grey and not just black and white in regards to the bloody history between the Church and the Witches.
- The Awesome Side Characters! Some people would argue that a story is only as great as its weakest character, and I agree to a point, but luckily there’s a vast array of minor/side characters that do nothing but add to the overall story that surround Reid and Lou. First, there’s Ansel, who’s a Chasseur in training, who’s more shy and introverted and sensitive when compared to his fellow officers of the church. I personally really connected with him and his inner turmoil of self doubt and low self confidence and how he learns to stand up for himself. Him and Coco, who’s Lou’s best friend, add a great dynamic to both main characters, even though their views of the world are completely different. So I guess that means I should mention Coco, a bloodwitch who quickly became Lou’s bestfriend as they’d scavenged the streets of Cesarine in order to survive. Another character was the Archbishop. He’s absolutely vile with his sexist and puritan mind-set, and reminded me of those judgy, ultra-religious folks that look down at everyone who doesn’t meet their standards…however, he does become more interesting as the plot thickens, so don’t just cast him aside and regard him as a token antagonist for the sake of throwing one in. One last character worth mentioning is Madame Labelle. She’s the head operator of a brothel in Cesarin, but don’t write her off either; there’s plenty of secrets she’s hiding that you’ll be begging to find out!
- Great Character Development! Besides their growing romance, Lou and Reid both go through an incredible amount of personal growth within themselves and become wiser and more mature characters by the end. At the beginning, they’d both hated each other and what they thought the other represented. Lou is bold, courageous, defiant, and loves to ruffle the feathers of the members of the church, Reid included. She’d narrowly escaped from a vast tragedy, and then grew up on the streets, so it makes sense how all that had caused her to put up some major walls and not let anyone in, and hide that fear behind snide remarks and a quick temper. The thing I loved most about her was her ability to not see anything in black and white; she realizes there’s depth in all aspects of the world she lives in, and discovers that even more as she gets closer to the Chasseurs and Reid. Reid is the exact opposite: he is uptight, stuffy, prudish, a rule follower, and looks down on the “heathens” who litter the streets, human and/or witch. Lou pokes at his bravado, infuriates him to no end, but finds a spirit much like her own underneath his own exterior. Reid becomes self sacrificing, and becomes more aware of those around him and their motives, and while he may not initially accept their differences, he can understand them more. Together, they both crack down the walls they’d built around themselves and are shocked to discover how much they mean to each other, and makes you believe in love conquering all. Also, total side note, but those that have compared Lou and Reid’s dynamic to that of Nina Zenik and Matthias Helvar from the Six of Crows series by Leigh Bardugo are spot on!
What I Didn’t Like:
- Lack of WorldBuilding. So, what I’d gathered is how this story basically takes place in a fictional 17th Century France…but not really. People speak the French language, the clothing is similar to the times of when Marie Antoinette ruled with a heavy oversized wig, but it felt like France just got renamed to Cesarine so that it wasn’t just a historical-paranormal romance like Outlander. While most of the story didn’t need a richly thought out and creative fantasy-genre setting, the location did feel like an afterthought compared to other aspects of the book that had gotten more attention, like the history and lore behind the bloodbath of a feud with the Church and the Witches.
For a debut novel, Serpent & Dove is an impressive work of fiction. While it’s considered YA Fantasy, I’d say changing it to New Adult Paranormal Romance is a much more accurate genre depiction. Shelby Mahurin has created a wicked, twisted, dark, entrancing, and fun world filled with many unpredictable twists and turns, scorching romance, and sacrificial magic that glows golden amber in the dark of the night.
I’d recommend this title to anyone who’d enjoyed The Folk of the Air trilogy by Holly Black, Any titles written by YA Fantasy queens like Leigh Bardugo or Sarah J. Maas, or to anyone who especially enjoys the more romantic side of the Outlander franchise in both the books and the hit TV show–Reid Diggory is certainly a swoon-worthy ginger man much like Jamie Fraser.
As of right now, Serpent & Dove is going to just be a duology with its sequel, Blood & Honey, expected to–hopefully–release sometime later in 2020. I personally cannot wait to see what happens next for this story and the characters, especially with how this book ends. While I’m relieved it wasn’t a purely evil cliffhanger, it still leaves the deadly promise of much more to come!
Thanks for Reading!
— Nick Goodsell