A Decent Fantasy That Wasn't My Cup of Tea | Review: Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

6:39 PM

Serpent & Dove was one of my most anticipated reads of 2019. I was SO excited to finally get to it.

About

For her sixteenth birthday, Louise le Blanc’s mother gave her three things: a sacrificial altar, a ritual knife, and a wicked scar.

Lou’s death would have ended the ancient war between the Church and witches, but Lou refuses to become a martyr. Forsaking her coven, she escapes to the gloomy city of Cesarine and hides her magic as a thief in the criminal underworld. But life in Cesarine has its own dangers. Huntsmen roam the city revered as holy men. Witches burn without trial. And the Archbishop, the Church’s austere patriarch, revels in violence.

As a huntsman, Reid Diggory lives by one verse: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

He's devoted his entire life to eradicating the occult and making his surrogate father, the Archbishop, proud. Finally given the chance to capture a witch of his own, Reid is devastated when a foul-mouthed thief thwarts him—and doubly devastated when she too disappears. Hell-bent on bringing her to justice, Reid vows she won't escape again. But when Lou tricks him into public scandal trying to avoid capture, the two are forced into an impossible situation—marriage.

Marriage to a huntsman could provide real protection from the witches—if Lou can convince Reid she isn’t one herself. The secret proves difficult to keep as Lou begins practicing magic in secret within the heart of the Church, determined to prepare for her mother’s inevitable return. As time passes, however, Lou discovers yet another danger lurking: her own growing feelings for her husband. But Reid is still dangerous. He’s just as likely to tie her to the stake as defend her if he learns her true identity. With enemies closing in—and more than her own life at stake—Lou must decide who she can trust before it's too late…and she's not the only one with a secret.
For her sixteenth birthday, Louise le Blanc’s mother gave her three things: a sacrificial altar, a ritual knife, and a wicked scar.

Lou’s death would have ended the ancient war between the Church and witches, but Lou refuses to become a martyr. Forsaking her coven, she escapes to the gloomy city of Cesarine and hides her magic as a thief in the criminal underworld. But life in Cesarine has its own dangers. Huntsmen roam the city revered as holy men. Witches burn without trial. And the Archbishop, the Church’s austere patriarch, revels in violence.

As a huntsman, Reid Diggory lives by one verse: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

He's devoted his entire life to eradicating the occult and making his surrogate father, the Archbishop, proud. Finally given the chance to capture a witch of his own, Reid is devastated when a foul-mouthed thief thwarts him—and doubly devastated when she too disappears. Hell-bent on bringing her to justice, Reid vows she won't escape again. But when Lou tricks him into public scandal trying to avoid capture, the two are forced into an impossible situation—marriage.

Marriage to a huntsman could provide real protection from the witches—if Lou can convince Reid she isn’t one herself. The secret proves difficult to keep as Lou begins practicing magic in secret within the heart of the Church, determined to prepare for her mother’s inevitable return. As time passes, however, Lou discovers yet another danger lurking: her own growing feelings for her husband. But Reid is still dangerous. He’s just as likely to tie her to the stake as defend her if he learns her true identity. With enemies closing in—and more than her own life at stake—Lou must decide who she can trust before it's too late…and she's not the only one with a secret.



Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin 
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2.5)

“It means . . . water is like a mirror,” my husband had explained, frowning slightly. “It reflects our faces back to us. And our lives—the way we live, the things we do—” He’d looked at his hands, suddenly unable to meet my eyes. “They reflect our hearts.”

All right, guys. I'll admit it: I am conflicted.

Did I enjoy Serpent & Dove? Am I going to read any of its upcoming sequels? Am I invested enough, even after a slow start and an impressive end to book one? I just don't know. This is how I felt earlier this year with Wicked Saints. I'M SO PRESSED and SO CONFUSED. Also, I wish that this novel wasn't marketed as YA, when it's VERY CLEARLY more suited as NA. But, we'll get to that later.

First of all, why didn't I completely love this book? Earlier this year, I predicted that Serpent & Dove would be one of my favourites of 2019. I think that, maybe, I over-hyped it in my own mind and that's on me, not the book. I honestly didn't care enough of the plotlines until the final quarter of the book, which is a massive slow start for me.

I struggled in the beginning, despite being charmed by one of the main characters, enjoying the writing and eyeing the possibilities that came with the world featured within. It was strange, because there were times when my heart raced with the ideas of what might happen--while I simultaneously felt like nothing was happening.

And then when things did happen I was like, wait, did I miss development?

It's not even that I hated Serpent & Dove. I didn't. Truly! I liked the world, the intrigue of it all, the magical system, and all its dangers, plus the character of Lou. Within a few moments, I was already attached to her and, if I had to single out one thing that made me keep reading, it was her. I had the most fun with Serpent & Dove when we were in Lou's head. Once the story kicked in place, for me, I really enjoyed it--I just can't get past the fact that it took me until the last quarter to actually get invested in the central story arcs and relationships.

Which is unfortunate.

But! Taste is subject and Shelby Mahurin is a gifted writer. So, I can definitely see why it has been so well-received in our community. And I definitely enjoyed her prose. It was smooth, if not a little slow, and she definitely went straight to the point on a lot of things while still leaving enough questions and intrigue in our minds. I liked the way the story flowed, even if there were some elements and plotlines that made me cringe or zone out.

There's this bleak humor to Serpent & Dove that had me giggling into my hands. Somehow, this humour is both subtle and crude. It's not unlike a knife pressing against you in a silent threat. That's a compliment, so long as the knife doesn't actually stab you. If I had to pick another trait of the story that kept me reading, it was definitely in the humor.

While I loved Lou nearly instantly, it took me quite a while to warm up to Reid. I liked him less than I liked Lou, and pretty much actively disliked him until around the halfway point. Their relationship intrigued me to a degree, but also had its moments where it put me off. I'm all for a good enemies to lovers romance, but there were times when this one felt a little too shaky and awkward. By the end, I was more on board, but their beginnings were less than stellar and I'll leave it at that.

The side characters, too, were of great interest to me. Whenever they were on page, I kind of wished they'd stick around for longer than they did. I'd have loved to see more development of Ansel, Coco, etc. I'd love to know more of the familial origins of both Lou and Reid, with all the revelations that came about during the novel's climax. (“Why the f*ck is everyone in this kingdom trying to murder my wife?”)

Ultimately, this book wasn't my favourite. The sparks-will-fly ending was enough to raise what was originally going to be a lower rating, and may even be enough to convince me to continue on with the story in the future, but for the most part I didn't vibe with Serpent & Dove. I felt like there was something missing from it from the get-go, and I really couldn't shake that feeling even in its best parts.

One last note, I have to question it being marketed as a Young Adult fantasy. Serpent & Dove is, without a doubt in my mind, New Adult fantasy. This book should not be categorized as such. It is NA to its very core. While I understand why it was marketed as such, it doesn't feel like it should be. At all.

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