Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin
My Rating: 4.25/5 TARDISes
Series: Serpent & Dove #1
Date Published: September 3rd, 2019
Pages: 519 pages
Synopsis: Bound as one to love, honor, or burn.
Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.
Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou’s, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.
The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou’s most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.
And love makes fools of us all.
This is a spoiler-free review.
I feel like I can’t even begin to describe just how pleasantly surprised I was by this novel. I am not a big fan of romance-heavy stories and one of my least favorite tropes of all time is hate-to-love relationships—so basically the two things the entire plot hinges on. Needless to say, I went into this very hesitantly. Very intrigued to learn how Lou and Reid end up in the position they do and to experience this story everyone has been raving about, but also keeping my expectations as low as I could. I did not for a second expect to come out of it knowing it will, without a doubt, be on my list of favorite books of the year. This is one of those books that I believe truly lives up to all the hype surrounding it.
Serpent & Dove is a dual perspective narrative following Lou le Blanc, a witch, and Reid Diggory, a Chasseur, or witch-hunter. Lou has escaped from her coven and has taken refuge in the city of Cesarine. She lives in hiding. giving up magic and surviving as a thief. In Cesarine, witches are seen as a danger to all of society—they are hunted and burned, and no woman is above suspicion.
Reid is sworn to the church and charged with the hunting and capture of witches, sworn into a role that demands he will not let a single witch live. In a surprising turn of events, Lou’s and Reid’s paths cross in a way neither of them could have ever expected. A way that leads to their marriage, that forms a seemingly impossible love, and that brings Lou under the roof of the people who could be her source of protection—or her death.
The writing in this book is absolutely superb and cements Shelby Mahurin on my list of favorite authors. Her writing is gorgeous and so easy to fall into. It is incredibly clear how meticulously she formed every aspect of this novel. Both the plot and the setting are incredibly intriguing and captivating. I loved the French influences in all aspects of the story—it makes for a very vivid and enticing atmosphere and Cesarine is the perfect backdrop for everything that takes place. She also does a wonderful job with the dual perspective narrative and creates two very individual voices for our two main characters.
Even though the romance is the main focus of the story, the fantasy aspect is very strong as well and is of almost equal importance. The fantastical elements, though more of a side plot for now, don’t really take a backseat in terms of detail or how significant they are to the overall story. Mahurin crafts an interesting and intricate magic system as strongly as she crafts the romance. It’s something I’m particularly looking forward to seeing in more detail in the next book.
The only minor issue I had plot-wise was the event that sends Lou and Reid down the path toward their marriage. Though my opinion shifted by the end of the novel, as I was able to see every event throughout in a different light, the scene still felt a little bit clumsy and heavy-handed and also completely random, maybe a little too much so. It wasn’t at all what I would have expected and was a bit of a letdown for me, so I sort of wish it had been done differently. But overall, this barely affected my enjoyment of the story as a whole.
This novel holds one of the most brilliant and beautiful casts of characters I’ve ever come across. Lou is everything. She is one of my new favorite characters of all time—I fell completely and utterly in love with her right from the very start of the novel. She is so strong despite the pain she has been through and the terror and uncertainty of her life now. Lou is sassy and sarcastic and absolutely hilarious. She’s tough and guarded much of the time, but underneath, she is so intensely loving, caring, and loyal—just an absolutely beautiful person. I connected with her so easily, and it was an absolute joy reading from her perspective and following her journey.
It took me a while to warm up to Reid, but I definitely had by the end of the novel. He’s quite set in his ways and his prejudices against women, always acting in a very traditional way toward Lou. They are living in a time when women are little more than the property of their husbands and this is something that is clearly ingrained in Reid. He is protective of her and chivalrous to a fault, but it takes a while from him to sound anywhere near loving, even after it’s clear he has feelings for her. At first, I struggled a bit reading his chapters because his attitude and initial inability to be open-minded frustrated me so much. However, there is one major reason I noticed that I think prevented me from connecting with him sooner.
Yes, he is very close-minded in many of his beliefs and his actions, but I felt that there were a few times where things sort of got lost in translation in a sense. There would be scenes from his point of view where his actions and words felt a bit confusing to me and I took them as negative. But later on, something would cause me to realize what exactly he meant by what he said or did and that it wasn’t in fact negative. I don’t think I explained that particularly well, but basically, I think there were times where his point of view could have been written more clearly. In the end, though, I did end up really liking him and it does become very obvious how much he truly cares and would do anything for Lou.
I ended up absolutely adoring the relationship between Lou and Reid. It unfolds and transforms in such a natural way. As I said before, hate-to-love is one of my least favorite tropes, but it is done so well here that I didn’t really mind it. It’s still not something I enjoy reading about and that obviously does impact my rating of the novel slightly. However, few people can get me to like a novel that features this type of relationship, and Mahurin definitely nailed it. My problem with the trope tends to stem from the tension being completely nonsensical and feeling like it’s just thrown in to create drama, and you will not find that in this book.
The tensions between Lou and Reid feel so realistic and necessary—they have every reason to be wary of each other. Understandably, that they sometimes overlook what they truly know about the other as a person in favor of ideas and prejudices that were hammered into them from a young age. They are both strong characters that are unapologetically themselves and, while it causes them to butt heads at first, it turns into a mutual respect for each other and, of course, love as well. The issues that create conflict, in the beginning, are what come to be the things that pull them together rather than drive them apart. And the sum of both of them individually—the strengths and the flaws—is what brings them each to love the other wholly.
There are also some stellar side characters in this story. Coco was, by far, my favorite—she is totally someone I’d love to be friends with. The friendship between her and Lou is so lovely and I’d gladly spend hours just reading about them. They have such a fun dynamic and they always have each other’s backs no matter what. They are the definition of found family and their story warmed my heart. Ansel, a bit like Reid, took me a while to start really liking, but he turns out to be an absolutely wonderful person and a great addition to that lovable found family.
Now for one of the most surprising things I’ve probably ever said and also one of the biggest contradictions when it comes to my typical taste in stories. As I’ve already said, I’m generally not a fan of books that heavily focus on romance. However, this book was so well written that one of my absolute favorite scenes in the entire story was the scene where Lou and Reid make love for the first time, as well as the truly heartwarming lead-up to it.
I am beyond picky about how sex scenes are written in novels. So many fall into the trap of using overly descriptive and flowery prose and a lot of just plain weird words for everything. While I think that being extremely blunt and cold about it is not a good direction to go in either, the flowery descriptions and oversharing of details tend to make these scenes feel very awkward and unrealistic.
The sex scene in this book does not fall into either of these traps and I absolutely adored it. It just feels so realistic and natural, and that is exactly what I frequently find is missing from these types of scenes. Mahurin continues to write as beautifully as ever but is, I felt, fairly minimal on the exact details of the scene. And this is exactly why it works so well.
While yes, there is still detail, she relies more often on the reader’s knowledge of what takes place during a sexual encounter, which cuts out the need for the overly flowery prose and questionable word choices. In a number of places, she writes it in a “fade to black” way without actually fading to black. Mahurin has created a perfect example of how a sex scene should be written and how it should feel to the reader. The focus is on the passion and love between Lou and Reid—on not just physical feeling, but emotional and mental as well. It is so beautiful and natural and is, by far, one of the best-executed scenes I’ve ever come across.
Suffice it to say, I really enjoyed this book. It is so beautifully written and captivating—it is very easy to fall into and get lost in. Shelby Mahurin has created a magical and emotional tale, both heartbreaking and heartwarming that, at its core, brilliantly demonstrates the power of love of all kinds. The story and especially the characters will definitely stick with me for a long time. I’ve honestly been thinking about it constantly since I finished it a few months ago. And, of course, I am absolutely dying to get my hands on the next book in this series. I love how this ended and I cannot wait to be back with these characters once again and see their story continue.