Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin Book Review

This book is just plain fun. Well, in addition, it’s also a ferociously funny attack on those who use religion as an excuse to spread hate. And okay, it’s also a thought-provoking romance, in a world where most romances aren’t thought provoking.

Taking place in a version of a past-century France that according to the book’s map is some sort of island, or maybe some kind of magical little continent where French and English are together (or maybe all the characters are speaking Fr…you know what, never mind) there’s our hero, Louise Le Blanc. Her mother never loved her and raised her for the slaughter. Louise, or Lou as she goes by, is a witch, a type of human that can both do magic and is a female. There are no male witches out there and her coven is all female. Or at least it was until she had to run away and scavenge in the city of Cesarine for two years, in nightclubs and alleys or prestigious castles to pull off heists.

There’s also someone on the other side; a boy of the church, Reid Diggory, a Chasseur, devoted to the Archbishop whose goal is to have all witches burned at the stake like he’s been able to do for years. He ends up being the one chasing down Lou when she manages to steal a ring that gives a power of invisibility, but when it’s in your mouth rather than on your finger. Shortly after, a mishap leads them into a forced marriage (not kidding) and Lou has no intention of respecting the Archbishop’s word. But at least for now, as long as she is careful not to show any magic, she is safe in this big church or castle or whatever it is, from her all-powerful dream-infesting mother.

Serpent & Dove has an instant readability to it. The story begins with a palace heist, and even when the second act begins with a story arc that usually slows down when used in most stories, the book never feels like it does because of its sense of humour. You wouldn’t guess it from the cover, but there’s a song in this book the protagonist loves to sing called “Big Titty Liddy” and the lyrics include “whose bosom was as big as a barn” and “his knob was as long as his”. The magic in Serpent & Dove is not explored very much, and I’m still a bit fuzzy on how much a witch can actually do. But I was having a lot of fun with these “big titty” jokes Lou brings to the table that it doesn’t seem as important to understand this book as much as enjoying it. I devoured it.

You see, Reid and Lou are both uptight in their own ways, and there’s not really a particular moment where a switch is flicked. As they keep annoying each other, maybe they slowly realized an annoying person is not the same as a monstrous person. And there aren’t really any grand revelations about the other’s way of life being not so bad after all.

The book is also a little obvious but understandable in its comparisons to our real-life culture wars around if religion should dominate lands or if beliefs shouldn’t justify power imbalances. Boy, do we live in a world where excuses are made to hate particular people, to treat them as the reason the sky is about to fall. The truth is that hate is not something natural; it’s something taught, and it’s a lot easier to hate a group when you both don’t understand them and have never met them for yourself. One of Serpent & Dove’s concepts is the Witches and the followers of the Archbishop have been forced by assumptions into believing the other side is blasphemous, which has led to a history of mass executions that has prevented any possibility of peace. This book is not Da Vinci Code layered, but it is an excellent discussion for teens and adults about how people seem to hate because it’s easier to hate than to get to know and realize maybe their teachings are wrong.

By the end, not only did I have a lot of good ol’ plain fun, but Lou and Reid became one of my most favourite book couples in years, and I can’t wait to see what comes up with them next. Oh, and also. Ansel the guard? He is the best guard in the world! What’s his number? I want to go out for coffee with him!

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