Book Review – ‘Serpent & Dove’ by Shelby Mahurin

Title: Serpent & Dove
Author: Shelby Mahurin
Genre: Fantasy
Word/Page Count: 528 pages (paperback)
Publication Details: by Harper Collins Australia on September 2nd, 2019
RRP: $19.99 AUD (paperback)


Synopsis from Goodreads:

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.

This was one of my most highly anticipated reads of the year and I’m so glad to report that it blew my socks off as hoped! Serpent & Dove combines two of my favorite tropes: enemies-to-lovers and forced-marriage, which meant my expectations were sky high, but kudos to Shelby Mahurin, she became an instant fave author with this spectacular debut novel. ❤

We know going in that witch-on-the-run Louise Le Blanc and witch hunter Reid Diggory will end up tying the knot, the question is how. Given their respective roles, I couldn’t imagine how the author would pull this off without it seeming overly contrived, but I ended up marveling at how expertly the marriage was woven in! The story was tightly plotted with subtle hints at the secrets our protagonists were hiding or had yet to discover and reveals dropped at just the right time before the audience grew tired of the mystery or at the perfect moment to blindside us along with Lou and Reid.

I am a chronic nitpicker (suspension of disbelief only works for believing in magic) and there were a couple of things that seemed odd or out of character that stood out to me, but by the end of the book, it all made complete sense and turned out to have been included by design. I love being proved wrong in this manner, it’s satisfying realizing that the author had the upper hand the whole time! And even when I saw a twist coming, it was still enjoyable seeing how it played out once the characters were on the same page.

The most impressive thing about this novel is that it doesn’t take the easy way out with villainizing the Church and casting the witches as innocent victims of oppression. That would be too simple, instead it deals in shades of grey with both sides being guilty of great atrocities and both sides having sympathetic characters who have reasons to believe that they’re on the right side. These complexities really elevated the reading experience as I would agree wholeheartedly with Lou in one chapter, but come around to Reid’s entirely understandable viewpoint in another, then think about how I would act in their shoes and struggle to come up with what I would do differently. There were no clear-cut answers in this fractured society that had decades of bad blood and animosity between the Church and the witches.

So, we have a strong plot, how about the characters? Oh, wow, the characters! Lou is my FAVORITE, I absolutely adored how practical, ruthless and determined she was to prioritize her survival at all costs. The quintessential Slytherin! She’s also charming, hilarious and my new book BFF, she comes off as someone who would be so much fun to hang out with! I don’t see a lot of characters like Lou in fiction – often female protagonists are either flawless and saintly or they’re damaged anti-heroines; since Lou is all about looking out for number one, she could’ve been abrasive and bitter, using a sharp tongue to keep everyone at a distance. Instead Lou is more nuanced and well-rounded, she’s damaged by her past, but she uses bawdy humor to cover up her insecurities and cocky cheerfulness to build a wall between herself and everyone else. Such an interesting character quirk! It makes for a hilarious dynamic with Reid. 🙂

Ah, Reid, our rigid uptight prude (talk about gender subversion) who is actually the most swoonworthy love interest I’ve read in ages! He holds Lou in great distaste from the start, no surprise given her thieving lifestyle and vulgar personality, but once they’re married, he takes his vows seriously and is dedicated to keeping her safe and trying to be a good husband. He’s just so sweetly earnest and wears his heart on his sleeve, guh! ❤ Of course, his prejudice against witches is no small flaw, given that his role as a Chasseur is to hunt down and kill witches!

While the focus of Serpent & Dove is on Lou and Reid’s relationship, the supporting cast is filled with memorable and endearing characters. I was thrilled to see a fantastic female friendship between Lou and fellow witch Coco, plus the platonic friendship between Lou and Church initiate Ansel was really cute. The side characters are mainly there to propel the plot, but I loved the little flourishes that the author threw in to make them more three-dimensional (the Archbishop and his guilty indulgence of sticky buns late at night)!

As much as I’m in love with this book, there are a few flaws – I wish Reid’s perspective on witches had been explored more because it’s a drastic change to go from burning them alive to falling in love with one. I also would’ve thought that Lou might struggle more with the idea of her husband having no issues executing or torturing witches, but this is handwaved away. The action in the last quarter was exciting, but it was also staged in a very messy way that made little sense – I was confused about what was going on and it also seemed way too convoluted and ill-planned. Reid is a captain who is used to commanding his men, I didn’t believe that he would meekly follow along without a clear strategy in those dire circumstances. Still, I was having way too much fun with the characters and was far too invested in the story to let these issues detract from my enjoyment, however it may be more of a problem for other readers.

There is so much here to love – compelling nuanced characters, fast-paced plot and engaging writing with a unique magical system and complex world-building. I whole-heartedly recommend this and cannot WAIT for the sequel!

Personal Rating: 4.5 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.


Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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