L’Amour Fou

‘Serpent and Dove,’ a Fun, Frenchy YA Fantasy Romance

Louise Le Blanc is a foulmouthed thief, willfully independent, and a witch who hides her powers.

Reid Diggory is a Chasseur, bound by a fierce moral code to find and destroy witches.

Obviously, they’re meant for each other.

Serpent and Dove, the debut young-adult novel from Shelby Mahurin, feeds your expectations and then subverts them.

Mahurin’s inspired fantasy has just enough set pieces to sketch the boundaries of an olde French-y world of stern church elders, well-meaning witches, evil witches, and the swashbuckling corps of witch-hunters known as Chasseurs. Powerful, misunderstood women devoted to the Craft? Intrigue and politics of the church? Forbidden love? A race against time? Sign me up, chérie. I too like my star-crossed lovers with a side of macarons.

But Serpent and Dove isn’t just a predictably enjoyable romp. From the beginning, Lou’s dialogue is less “Les Misérables,” more 100 percent That Bitch. The disconnect injects a welcome dose of modernity into the story, much more so than simply having Lou chafe against the societal expectations of the period. She does that too, of course.

“What sort of pompous ass wears brocade while mourning?” she wonders while spying on an aristocrat, the first step of a caper that leads her to a compromising situation with Reid. To save face for his pet Chasseur, Reid’s Archbishop orders them to marry. (Or, submit to public lashing and imprisonment. Your choice!)

Lou agrees, figuring she can hide her witchy ways from her attractive if straitlaced new husband, while using the martial power of the Chasseur compound as protection from the witch who’s also hunting her.

She’s not even going to pretend to follow the rules, though. From hissing curses at Reid and the Archbishop to reciting bawdy poems to distract guards, Lou wields her words as a weapon. Yet these two have got to get together somehow, and when Reid offers her a novel from his secret stash as a gesture of kindness, the exchange is a meta capsule summary of Serpent and Dove:

“The characters are from warring kingdoms,” Reid explains, “but they’re forced to work together when they uncover a plot to destroy the world. They loathe each other initially, but in time, they’re able to set aside their differences and—”

“It’s a bodice-ripper, isn’t it?” Lou interrupts.

Yes, and so is this book. The tension builds to one particularly steamy scene in a genre that typically alludes to sex rather than detail it. Yet its explicit nature also means Mahurin weaves in clear consent as well as Lou’s straight talk to ensure she’s just as satisfied as Reid. I’d far rather teens read a positive depiction of sex than wonder how to include all those elements we stress in parental conversations and health education classes.

There’s plenty of action as well, particularly in the final third of the book, which sets up the second title in this planned duology. L’amour is quite enchanting indeed.

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Sharyn Vane

Sharyn Vane has reported and edited at newspapers in Washington, D.C., Colorado, Florida and Texas. For the last decade she has written about literature for young people for the Austin American-Statesman.

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