There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.
As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.
Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster.
I was fascinated by this book since I first read the blurb because any non-western mythology based storytelling gets me going. Ofcourse I had to wait a while to read because my library didn’t buy a copy and then luckily got the advance copy of the audiobook instead. And it definitely was fun.
The best part of this book is surely the inspiration it’s based on – Persian mythology. I absolutely loved all the stories that form a part of this world, including the faith, their traditions as well as all the kinds of monsters. It felt very well fleshed out, with lush and vivid descriptions and other worldly vibes – almost making it feel like I was part of a fairytale. The writing is very easy to follow and once I started, I didn’t feel like putting it down because the author managed to ensnare me in with her words. I also really enjoyed the liberal use of Persian words because even if I didn’t understand the actual meanings, they just felt very familiar and comforting.
But it was the plot and execution where I think I felt a bit let down. The premise is so interesting that I think I expected a lot and that may have led to my disappointment, but I just felt like the book was missing a wow factor. The big reveal/twist that happens didn’t feel that shocking at all and even if not in it’s entirety, I did see a big part of it coming a mile away. After that, even though I was very engaged in the story, it didn’t feel high stakes enough for me to be worried or tense.
It’s hard not to empathize with Soraya despite her making some not so great decisions sometimes, because her circumstances are so unusual. She is perfect antihero material – with her anger and shame and self loathing – and while she does tend to let her baser instincts drive her sometimes, you never stop rooting for her. She is someone who has spent most of her life in isolation and starved of touch, afraid of succumbing to the poison in her veins and becoming a monster – and her journey of figuring out what kind of a person she can be if given the chance, with and without the curse, and what all she is ready to sacrifice for the sake of family – it’s all very interesting to be a part of and I loved getting to know her.
While there are many other side characters who appear in the book, there are only a couple who feel fleshed out enough that we get to understand them a little. Azad is a fascinating character and reading about him and Soraya together is very intriguing because we get to see all the possibilities that their paths have taken and can take in the future; and how circumstances can alter the choices they might make leading to unexpected consequences. Parvaneh is another character whom I wasn’t sure about for a while, but I loved the progression of her relationship with Soraya and the kind of trust they managed to build in such precarious conditions.
While we do get some insight into Soraya’s mom and her decision making which leads to most of the plot, I still would have liked to see more of the bond between mother and daughter because they definitely deserved more time to explore the new nature of their relationship. Sorush on the other hand doesn’t get much page at all and I honestly felt that he was very unfair to Soraya in the past and despite her actions, he deserved to spend more time trying to win her affections and he got let off easy.
To conclude, this book has a beautiful Persian mythology inspired world which sucks you in and a great main character whom you can’t stop rooting for. If you are someone who loves fairytale retellings, then this book is perfect for you. It may not have completely lived up to my expectations (I surely would have loved some more of that promising sapphic romance), but I did enjoy my reading experience and would definitely recommend it. And I really loved the audiobook narration of Nikki Massoud but I have to mention that it may take a couple of chapters to familiarize yourself with the Persian vocabulary a little, but don’t let that deter you from listening to it.
PS: Thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan Audio for providing me with this advance listening copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.