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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Serpent & Dove, by Shelby Mahurin, is the first book in a French-inspired witch fantasy trilogy. Lou, the snarky, fierce 18-year-old heroine, renounced the magic of her coven at 16 and lives as a thief in Cesarine. When she crosses paths with Reid, the town's top witch-hunting Chasseur, their worlds and the world will never be the same. Characters show great loyalty and courage in protecting themselves, each other, and innocent people. Empathy, shades-of-gray morality, and the dangers of extremism are recurrent themes. Sensitive and younger teens could be disturbed by the blood-soaked scenes of violence involving both magic and weapons (knives, daggers, hot coals, etc.). A smoldering opposites-attract romance storyline includes one explicit sex scene between consenting young adults. The scene involves some pain during intercourse, described as on the "fine line between pleasure and pain" and as a "good hurt." Parents may wish to read along with older teens and/or discuss this scene, especially in the context of consent and communication around sex. Occasional strong language includes "ass," "damn," "hell," and "s--t."
- Parents say
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What's the story?
SERPENT & DOVE centers on Lou, a rebellious witch who escapes from her coven, the Dames Blanches, on her 16th birthday. She renounces magic, and for two years, she survives by stealing what she needs. When a botched robbery puts her in a compromising position with Reid, the pious lead witch hunter, his boss, the archbishop, proposes they marry to protect Reid's spotless reputation. Lou accepts, figuring the best place to hide from the leader of the Dames Blanches, La Dame des Sorcières, is with the witch hunters themselves. Their mutual hatred dissipates as they get to know one another, and they begin to fall in love. However, Lou continues to keep her identity as a witch secret. When the truth unravels, a brutal fight for survival ensues that reveals the fate of their love, and the fate of their world at large.
Is it any good?
This richly-imagined, funny witch fantasy has complex characters, intricate systems of magic, and a captivating slow-burn enemies-to-lovers romance. It's a well-paced story full of intrigue and action. Lou's crass humor and refusal to be a proper lady will win over readers, while Reid's transformation from religious man of strict faith to principled but open-minded person is endearing. Well-developed secondary characters are just as charming. While all of the characters in Serpent & Dove start out in separate, warring worlds of morality, they eventually find their own and each other's humanity in the murky gray in-between.
The beginning suffers from vagueness about the systems of magic and an unproductive mystery about who is searching for Lou and why, though the story picks up and fills in gaps once Lou's past returns to claim her. Readers might be unsettled by Lou and Reid's first kiss (at the scene of a murder) and the pain and pleasure of the sex scene, though they aren't surprising given their hard-won relationship and personalities. The ending has a predictable plot twist, but it's easily forgiven as the intense battle for survival keeps the pages turning to the very end. Overall, this book is a stay-up-all-night joy to read, and fantasy-loving teens are sure to clamor for the sequel.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Serpent & Dove: How does fantasy violence differ from real-life violence? Does this affect how you feel about the violence in this book?
This book is marketed as young adult but will attract adult readers as well. Why do you think the publisher decided to market it to teens? What separates young adult from children's or adult literature?
How does sexual consent figure into Reid & Lou's decision to make love. How does Reid get consent from Lou? How does Lou get consent from Reid? What, if anything, surprised you about the sex scene?
- Author: Shelby Mahurin
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: HarperTeen
- Publication date: October 10, 2019
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 17
- Number of pages: 528
- Available on: Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: September 13, 2020
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