Serpent & Dove
by Shelby Mahurin
Kindle Edition, 528 pages
Published September 3rd 2019 by HarperTeen
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.
I’m sure a lot of you already heard about Serpent & Dove and how a lot of people seem to love this book. And as this is pitched as a slow burn enemies to lovers romance, of course I have to give it a try too!
This book is divided into 3 parts and the first part was unfortunately a bit slow for me, in a sense that we spent more time getting to know the characters and their alliances. That doesn’t mean this part is not interesting because there are certainly a lot of things happening. But it definitely felt dull compared to the other parts.
The second part is where things get exciting as the story focused more on Lou and Reid and their interaction. As they are total opposites- whether in character or alliance- their interactions border on bantering and fragile trust. I love how they both initially started out as forced and yet as the time goes, they learn how to navigate each others’ characters. I would say this is my favorite part of the book as we see their characters grow, adjust to each other, and they start to think of the other’s perspectives.
The third part is where the plot and action really picks up, so if you’re waiting for the action, you unfortunately have to wait for a while. The stakes are really high and we also got the full picture of the big plan. My favorite part is that we got to know more of the frequently met side characters and how they worked really well together.
The story is set in a fictional city of Cesarine, which I think it’s inspired by 17th-18th century France. I’d say that I wished we got more information of the world as I have no idea how it looked like physically. Based on the tidbits we have, I always envisioned it like Belle’s village from Beauty and the Beast- which mean it’s pretty generic. And while we got the picture of the bitter fight between the church and Lou’s coven, Coco’s presence hint of more complexities regarding witches coven that might be revealed in the next installment.
I know a lot of people love Lou and got bored with Reid, but I love them both! Yes, Lou is more fun and lively with her antics and crass but that doesn’t mean Reid is interesting to look for. Reid truly believes in his doctrine and want to do the best to protect the people. He’s also loyal and steadfast, but also kindhearted and have a naughty side too once he loosens up. Their opposite characters build so much tension at the beginning, but also grudging respect and eventually, admiration. And while their relationship is mainly depicted of romance, we also see how it represents the two sides of the war. Their interaction with each other opened up room for understanding and learning and I think that’s my favorite part of their dynamics.
I also love Lou’s friendship with Coco and Ansel. Coco, a fellow witch that’s as sassy and crass as Lou is the perfect fit for her. They both have complicated relationship with their family, survived off the harsh street together, and avoid the Chasseurs together. They shared a livelong experience and bond and it showed by how deeply they cared for each other. Ansel’s friendship started out in a much rockier, albeit funnier tone except Coco but he turned out to be Lou’s closest, kindest allies when it actually matters.
Madame Labelle and Beau surprised me as they turned out to be more important to the story than they appeared to. Especially Beau, who showed more depth despite well, still being rationally scared by witches. He’s also hilarious! I’m excited to see more of these two characters in the next installment.
I also would like to put my two cents on two controversies regarding this book, so for those of you who haven’t read the book yet, SPOILERS AHEAD.
The first one is whether Serpent & Dove is YA or not, because admittedly, it covers the themes of marriage and the sex scene in this book is quite graphic. I’d say it fits into the YA category, albeit the older YA group. I mean, there are a lot of YA books out there that discussed/have sex scene that is not fade to black and YA is the age most of us encounter sex for the first time. And in a lot of countries, people actually marry in their 20s- while finishing their degree or straight out of college. So it can be part of the YA category, but the older segment of the genre.
The second one is about the marriage dynamic in this book. I understand that this world building is based on the 18th century therefore the marriage dynamic is still “husband owning his wife”. Reid, the Archbishop, and Jean Luc themselves said the word “obey” several times and while I usually have a huge problem with this, I find Reid is not actually as controlling as it might implied. I mean, at the beginning he didn’t trust her and considering their interactions always end with him in trouble, rightly so. So he keeps a close eye on her, confining her within the walls and assigning her with a “nanny”. The places Lou forbidden to visit are also fairly imposed as it is imposed to all unauthorized guests to the dormitory (ex: the infirmary). Reid never actually discipline her- he complains and he gets angry, but he always apologizes afterwards and never gave punishment, physically or verbally. As they build their trusts, Reid practically allowed her to roam everywhere, even going so far as to went with her, trusting her lead. And despite all the dangers and Reid’s desire to protect Lou, this book (and Reid’s inner monologue) always remind us that Lou is more than capable to defend herself and we see Reid has so much respect for that.
Serpent & Dove is one of the most hyped up book in the second half of 2019 and with good reason! It’s funny and fast paced, with well-developed characters which form unexpected alliances. The romance is slow burn, with witty banter and fragile distrust that also represents the two sides of the war. I would love for us to get more information on the world but I’m pretty sure it will be explored more in the next installment. I’m looking forward to get back to this world and its cast of characters!