Review: Serpent and Dove Trilogy

3.5 out of 5 stars

Spunky and charming old-fashioned witchcraft (en francais!) in need of better pacing. Serpent & Dove (4/5 stars); Blood & Honey (3.5/5 stars); Gods & Monsters (3/5 stars), by Shelby Mahurin

Serpent and Dove is a solid supernatural tale. Louise Le Blanc is the heiress to the greatest magical power in the land: that of her mother, known as Le Dame des Sorcieres. Too bad maman has no intention of retiring. She wants to live forever, with her power and everyone else’s, and plans to kill Lou to do it.

To save herself – and maybe everyone, if she must – sassy teenwitch Lou carves herself a Dickensian orphan’s life, living in a theater attic and committing petty crime around the city of Cesarine. But she and her fellow witch scampettes must keep a low profile, because the powerful Church hunts, and burns, witches.

So, of course, Lou gets captured by the most loyal, brainwashed, and utterly dreamy of the Church’s chasseur soldiers, Reid Diggory. (Yes, Diggory. No disguise here except this Cedric homage is ginger and is huge. Picture RPattz getting the Captain America serum, et voila.) Cue a series of maybe-predictable but absolutely delightful twists on the meet/fall-cute that end up with these two sharing a monk’s cell and having to get married.

By this time in the first book, Mahurin has already done two impressive things: charmed me with her mise-en-France backdrop and inserted an indoctrinated religious group that does not cause me to instantly die from anticipated boredom! This is a real feat. Usually, the minute any kind of church or cult or true believer storyline is introduced, I’m done. I’ll slog through, but it’s almost always an irredeemable move. Mahurin makes the reader feel as Lou does – like maybe the impossible isn’t quite.

These strengths remain as the series continues. Lou’s requisite band of misfits is likeable and quite funny, and it grows. The threats they face are pretty visceral; Mahurin gives it a slightly gory, macabre feel that’s in keeping with the medieval setting. Book one ends with a very promising cliffhanger.

But as we go, the story wanders. One too many side plots and detours makes Book Two, Blood & Honey, seem longer than it is. The cast keeps it going, but even their well drawn personalities can’t keep fresh that we have slowed our approach to the eventual denoument. That end is exciting, and a welcome relief from the unnecessarily long road taken to reach it.

Book Three, Gods & Monsters, has the opposite but equal problem. It’s too long, and too much happens. Way too much. A number of cool set pieces are jammed in back-to-back, like Mahurin had a burst of great ideas after finishing the second book, and wanted to get them all in. The result is scattered and choppy. There are way too many characters. I pictured a lunatic’s basement diorama with red-thread strings connecting it all. At several points during Book Three, and especially during the grand finale, I couldn’t keep track of who was where or why. I just knew it was ending, so I kept going at the speed forced on me by the crescendo, rather than taking a little time to appreciate the final acts of each of the characters I had really come to know and enjoy. Most of their ultimate contributions were lost in the barrage of action. The end of the story is satisfying, yes. But the experience of it could have been better.

Ultimately, I enjoyed this series. It’s common, though disappointing, when the end doesn’t quite meet the level of the beginning. A little more long-term planning, or an editor to say, “Save this for the next series!” would have made it a 4 star series for sure.

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