Expected Publication: September 8th, 2015 by Month9Books
SERPENTINE is a sweeping fantasy set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology.
Lush with details from Chinese folklore, SERPENTINE tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns sixteen, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness that not even daybreak can quell.
When her plight can no longer be denied, Skybright learns that despite a dark destiny, she must struggle to retain her sense of self – even as she falls in love for the first time.
I thoroughly enjoyed the writing but wasn't totally invested in the story. And that's pretty much how it went the entire way. The story definitely did get more intriguing, but it didn't feel as if it had enough intricate and fleshed-out details to seem believable, and so instead I found myself rolling my eyes sometimes.
Still, the mythology of Serpentine is something I haven't seen a ton of before, which was refreshing. I felt so immersed in the setting and could picture it so easily. The dark forests, the huge manor, the monks right next door. I know I already used the word refreshing, but it applies here as well.
Another good thing that Serpentine does? It tells its tale through the handmaiden rather than the privileged girl who owns the handmaiden. It's obviously not the first book to do so, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a nice break from the upper class. However, Skybright and her mistress, Zhen Ni, are practically sisters. They've known each other since they were babies, grown up together. But there's still a pretty big divide, if you ask me. Zhen Ni is still a mistress. Skybright can never herself marry or have children, and sometimes I feel like the book didn't really make a big enough deal of that. Now, those are things that I don't personally want, but the thing is that I have that choice. I have an option to want it, to do it someday. Skybright never has.
Nevertheless, Skybright and Zhen Ni have quite a strong connection. Until, of course, they both start keeping their own secrets from each other. You just know that's not going to end well.
As characters, I didn't find either of them particularly interesting. Maybe it's because I couldn't connect to them, I don't know. But not a single one of the characters in Serpentine was particularly remarkable to me. I didn't hate them, no. Skybright's love for Zhen Ni and her strength as she dealt with her own changes were important, sure. But beyond that I just . . . didn't care much, I guess. I was intrigued to find out what was going on with Skybright, where the story would go. But that wasn't really about her.
The romance is probably where I have the strongest feelings, because it was just so unbelievable to me. It happened too fast and I didn't feel a genuine connection. I rolled my eyes. Quite a bit. They meet and talk a handful of times throughout the entire novel. In the beginning, Skybright sees Kai Sen for the first time from very far away and she suddenly can't stop thinking about him. Which kind of set the tone for the entire romance. And, of course, a third party sort of enters the picture and I just. WHY. NO THANKS.
Of course, Serpentine also features a f/f relationship. YAY! FINALLY! I feel as if we didn't see enough of one of the characters involved, but it was still something nice to see, and it actually does play a part. (AKA it doesn't feel as if it was just thrown in to check off a box.) It's so unfamiliar to many of the characters in the book, unacceptable to some. It was a little heartbreaking to see the damage that simple love between two people could cause.
Plotwise and in terms of what's happening to Skybright, it had its weak moments and its stronger moments. The stronger moments were definitely at the end where there were a few plot twists.
tl;dr: Serpentine brings a lot of fresh stuff to the table - new mythology, a great setting, a f/f relationship. It features a strong female friendship. But for me, there's a bit of an execution problem. It was hard for me to stay interested and the romance between Skybright and Kai Sen wasn't believable. Still, I enjoyed the writing for the most part and did find a lot of stuff refreshing. Will I be reading the sequel? Probably not. But I do think Serpentine deserves 3 stars.