By: Zac Soper, Columnist
Debut author Shelby Mahurin blows away Young Adult fantasy with “Serpent and Dove.” This story follows Lou, a witch-turned-thief who abandoned her coven, and Reid, an orphan who was raised by the church to be a top-notch witch hunter. When these two cross paths, a strange mixture of romance and antipathy is ensued. Reid is faced with speculation against his lifelong religious beliefs, and enemies from Lou’s past are closing in on their hunt for her. These characters fall prey to their internal conflicts while the ancient war between the church and the witches rages on around them.
While the plotlines of witch hunting and hiding from lifelong enemies are strong pushes to the narrative focus, “Serpent and Dove” is by no means lacking in the character department. Both Lou and Reid serve as extremely morally gray characters. This makes for an interesting read because it is hard to anticipate how the characters will react when confronted with issues. Because these characters are unpredictable and because there is an extreme amount of mystery regarding Lou’s past (which is hastily catching up to her), this book is fast-paced and near impossible to put down.
The magic system in “Serpent and Dove” is nothing like I’ve seen before. It is a bit more complicated than Sarah J Maas’ implementation of a “well” inside of her characters which could only be tapped into after uncovering some mental blockage, but less complicated than any of Brandon Sanderson’s complex metal-eating and chemical reacting systems. From what we know, there are two types of witches in this world, those who mix their blood with natural materials and those who can manipulate the world around them through a system of checks and balances (ex: they can blind their enemy if they also blind themselves). This one-of-a-kind magic also made the book such a quick read. I was never bored, and I was always learning more and more about this world. That being said, I do think that the physical world could’ve been built more.
A large majority of the narrative takes place inside the walls of Cesarine, and only in the last hundred pages or so do we explore outside of those walls. In a world with witches and magic, I think this story could have benefitted from showing the reader a bit more of the creatures that lurk within it. I am also curious to know what the witch situation is like elsewhere in the world. Do witches even live in other countries? Is Christianity as overpowering in society everywhere else? I have questions, but also must keep in mind that this is just the first book. I’m sure at some point in the series our characters will be exploring new lands.
My favorite aspect by far were the character relations. Though the number of side characters were few, all paths were intertwined by the end. Everyone, no matter how minor of an introduction, was a key player in the final battle. Having all of the characters in the story directly impact the ending was something spectacular to read. I have high hopes for this series, and I doubt Mahurin will disappoint me.