Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin Book Review
Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Title: Serpent & Dove
Author: Shelby Mahurin
Genre: YA Fantasy
Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)
Description: 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.
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Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin is the first installment in a new YA fantasy series. This book along with the others in the series, Blood & Honey releasing later in 2020, follow the adventures of Lou and Reid. A witch and witch hunter married due to a tumbling set of circumstances that force them together at every turn.
Shelby Mahurin's writing is sinfully gothic in nature. It enhances the story of a world on a quest to eradicate witches - oh so perfect gothic creatures in their own right. Serpent & Dove is the best example of a great occult novel I've read in a long time. Its darkness enriches every aspect of the book. There's a very grand and eloquent style to each word. The author knows how to pick the right word for every occasion - and of occasions there are many.
Women and witches, one and the same in the world of Serpent & Dove, are not to be trifled with. They are the shadows supporting the entire narrative. Serpent & Dove isn't a watered-down telling of witches. It is pure and potent in its delivery. The ways of magic and witches feel grimly fantastical. The witches may clearly be morally grey in their own right, however, they are also a product of a public that persecutes them - Lou being one of them.
There's a relevant commentary on the Chasseurs and the witches they plan to burn - a tradition dating back to the very beginnings. Religion and magic swirl together in a tale of moral dilemmas and beliefs. The book's discussion of these things is thought-provoking and impactful. It doesn't shy away from difficult topics for the sake of soothing the waters.
The author writes a scenario we automatically find to be so strange in its steadfast discrimination of what is absolutely right and wrong. Yet it isn't too far of a leap from our own histories, yes minus the otherworldly element of magic, but otherwise similar to the story all women, here and there, know from birth. The amount of uncomprehending sexism flushes the reader in righteous anger. But it isn't an entirely unfamiliar concept to any of us as we watch these men attempt to burn women at a stake of their creation, witch or otherwise.
Spell work and magic share common attributes to real-life lore but the author has also managed to make these her own. The lore isn't just passively present but an active part of the story. The magic witches use in Serpent & Dove isn't a wonderfully simple creation. Magic comes with a cost, much like everything else in life. Magic is a balanced scale, a give and take, much like the real natural order. The author made sure every aspect of it is held up under scrutiny. There's a beautifully woven thread by which magic is used. It links Lou and all the witches of the past and present.
Lou Le Blanc, our protagonist, is velvety darkness wrapped into a character. While she is a magnificent sight to behold, she is also real in her design of being crude and to the point. It is the best of contrasts. She is an authentic kaleidoscope of traits that blur together and fracture in the light. Lou's cleverness is unmatched, a fact she hides under a rough exterior. She is a remarkably written character, a trait that can be hard to portray in any book.
Lou is her own brand of strong. She doesn't abide by societal norms and follows her heart wherever it may lead. She is someone who was destined to break barriers and change what it means to be a witch. The skepticism of Lou feels true to her character, toward the city, toward people, and more specifically the men of the Chasseurs, Reid included. Lou knows the world and its unforgiving nature - the nature of the chasseurs and men everywhere.
Born to be a sacrifice to her people, Lou has been groomed to be the ultimate gift to the gods. This has left her with an unfortunate feeling of selfishness for simply wanting to live instead of dying for a cause she isn't sure she believes in. Her past is one hovering throughout the entirety of the book but only takes a distinct shape later on. Whether it be the hatred of the humans or witches, Lou is forever stuck in the middle of their war and never accepted by either side.
Reid is resolute in his beliefs about witches as a Chasseur. He has an iron grip on the prejudices that flow through society about witches and their supposed inhumanity. He believes in the mission of his church, thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. One of the defining characteristics of Reid is that he is sweet with good intentions but his entire world revolves around hatred toward witches - Lou included.
Lou and Reid are thrown together in a whirlwind of happenstance. There's such intensity to the relationship between them, even in the beginning when they are nothing but enemies. Lou knows how to push all of Reid's buttons in the best way possible. The pair couldn't be more different and it's the cutest, most comedic thing I've ever read. They are a perfect contradiction
The relationship of Lou and Reid is slow-building but once it begins there is an instant connection. Underlying all their differences though there is an unspoken and indescribable bond. The reader genuinely experiences the evolution of the relationship that Lou and Reid share sentence by sentence, from hate to something akin to love. Reid has a blind post for Lou no matter how hard he tries to hide it. He thaws under the gaze of Lou without ever knowing that his hatred may well be the thing that keeps them apart.
All of the characters, while written in the same familiar style of the author, have their own unique perspective of life that defines their point of view. The author understands her characters and what makes them tick - therefore providing a clear picture for the reader to understand them too. The magic that is so prominent in the book muddles with the characters and what motivates them. It clings to the very fiber of the book. Even when it isn't being used in a moment it is still very present.
The author has a way of making the characters feel lively and whole - whether you love them or hate them. The characters are almost real flesh and bone with their hopes, dreams, regrets, and envy. Emotions that the characters experience wash over the reader so consumingly that it feels firsthand. The reader grows attached to every character in some fashion, not just Lou and Reid. You care about them no matter how small their part in the narrative may be - and that is the making of a good story.
I enjoyed the frayed and tattered relationships and how the author displays them as they either continue to unravel or mend themselves. The author knows how to layer an entangling knot of attachments and obligations. Banter and conversations flow easily through the book. They can be heavy like blood, carry on a more carefree nature, or even be slick like oil.
Serpent & Dove is the utmost perfection of the arranged marriage trope. I have never so much enjoyed what one would consider a trope laden book. It doesn't feel overused or overdone even if we all are familiar with these concepts. The author took the tropes and spun them on their axis with the same magic of the witches she writes about.
Serpent & Dove is a very good French-inspired fantasy novel that reads with moments reminiscent of all the best in the genre. This book isn't by any means a lighthearted depiction of witches and their gifts. It's dark and dangerous much like the world that hunts them. The writer carefully considers every single sentence put onto the page to suit the atmosphere of the story. Every word adds up to the sum of a tale that is not easily forgotten. Serpent & Dove is so good that you get lost in the pages, unable to comprehend the passage of time around you.
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