The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

25775743Facts and Figures

Published: March 3rd 2016, Andersen Press

Standalone/Series: Standalone

Genre: Contemporary

Acquired: Via Netgalley

Goodreads // Amazon // Author’s Twitter

What’s the story?

A dark, southern gothic novel about small-town dreams, love and grief.

Dill’s father is in jail for an unspeakable crime. Shunned by the neighbours in their small religious Tennessee town, Dill and his mother try to make ends meet. 

Dill’s only respite from poverty and prejudice are his two friends: Lydia and Travis. Travis is an oddball, finding sanctuary from his violent father in his obsession with an epic fantasy saga. Lydia is fast-talking and fiercely creative, pinning her hopes on her achingly cool fashion blog. Dill fears his heart will break when she escapes to a better life in New York.

Dill wants to get through his final year of high school in one piece. But there’s a dark secret at the heart of his family, a serpent poisoning his blood, filling him with despair. Dill must confront this legacy of madness and desperation before it tears him apart.

What did I think?

I need to start this review by saying I never had any intention of reading The Serpent King (it gets more positive, I swear). I’ll be totally honest and say I skimmed past it on Goodreads because I thought it was a fantasy novel and I wasn’t feeling it. Yeah, I’m an idiot, I know. It was only when a very lovely publicist told me I needed this book in my life that I decided to give it a go and, you know the age old story about not judging a book by its cover? Yeah, that.

The Serpent King is hands down one of the most moving, beautifully written, compelling novels I’ve read for years. I don’t have enough superlatives to tell you how much I thoroughly enjoyed reading it from beginning to end. Dill, Lydia and Travis are all wonderfully fleshed out characters and I didn’t find myself preferring one character’s POV over the others. Each of their stories helped to make the novel what it is and their quirky, ‘against the odds’ friendship was an absolute joy to read.

There is a lot going on in The Serpent King and it would have been easy for the novel to feel cluttered. We’ve got Lydia, Travis and Dill’s family relationships, romantic relationships and futures all panning out, as well as Dill processing his mental health, Lydia struggling to leave her friends behind as she prepares to depart for the big city, and sweet, lovely Travis just trying to keep his head down and escape reality with his beloved books. With all of that said, Zentner manages to craft a beautiful and, at times, heart-wrenching story that is gentle but raw.

It’s so exciting to read such a talented author’s work for the first time and I’m so grateful that this book was pushed into my hands, as I may well have missed out on one of the 2016’s best books. Do me a favour, don’t miss out on this one.

There are so many quotes in The Serpent King that I really loved but this one was my favourite, and it’s stayed firmly lodged in the back of my mind since I finished reading the book:

‘”I’m tired of watching children perish. I’m tired of watching the world grind up gentle people. I’m tired of outliving those I shouldn’t be outliving. I’ve made books my life because they let me escape this world of cruelty and savagery.'”

Who would I recommend it to?

Come on, just read it, okay?

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