BOOK REVIEW: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
Paperback, £7.99 GBP
Reviewed by Aly Locatelli
Some fall in glorious ways. On green fields of battle as old warriors, surrounded by friends, fighting for their homes, fighting cruelty.
Some fall crawling in the dirt of Forrestville, Tennessee, in the dark, impossibly young and alone, for no good reason at all.
Read “The Serpent King”, they said. You will love it, they said. And, for once, “they” were right. As a reader, I am always weary of hyped up books because, usually, what people love, I end up disliking. But Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King had been on my radar since the first early reviews began popping up all over the web, and I couldn’t wait to read it.
The name “Early” is a cursed name, and Dillard Wayrne Early Jr. knows this better than anyone. With a preacher father serving time in prison for unspeakable crimes, he faces all the backlash and hatred of a small town with nothing better to do than to gossip all day long. He is stuck in a rut: working to help his mother get out of his father’s debts, and studying at school knowing, deep down, that he will never get out of Forrestville, Tennessee, alive.
Then there’s Travis. He’s different, peculiar, and huge. People are scared of him ever since he knocked someone out (accidentally) for ripping into Dill. He was only trying to protect his best friend, and is really a softie at heart, but all people see is the strangeness about him, and the largeness of his powerful body. Travis’s home life sucks, and he immerses himself in a fantasy series he absolutely adores.
And then there’s Lydia. With over 100,000 followers online and a successful fashion blog, she’s everything Dill and Travis are not: spirited and creative, with bright dreams for the future and a career already laid out for her thanks to her online presence.
The three of them could not be more different, and yet they are all perfect for each other.
Nothing makes you feel more naked than someone identifying a desire you never knew you possessed.
But there’s something inside Dill that is unfurling, and it’s dark and terrifying. He knows something awful is going to happen — maybe to himself, maybe to those he loves — and that nothing will ever be the same again.
The Serpent King is one of those stories that gives you that doomed feeling from page one. You know it’s going to be awful. You know it’s going to be painful. You know that box of tissues you’re already clutching to your chest is just not going to be enough, but you read on anyway. Jeff Zentner paints a true picture of small town mentalities, and how it’s so much easier to live if you’re popular and well-liked and a true member of the community. But Dill, Travis and Lydia are outcasts, and no matter what they do, they will never be accepted for who they are.
“So when I watch trains, it makes me think about how much movement there is in the world. How every train has dozens of cars and every car has hundreds of parts, and all those parts and cars work day after day. And then there are all these other motions. People are born and die. Seasons change. Rivers flow to the sea. Earth circles the sun and the moon circles Earth. Everything whirring and spinning toward something. And I get to be part of it for a little while, the way I get to watch a train for a minute or two, and then it’s gone.”
It was so easy to identify with all three characters. I completely understood Travis’ passion for a fantasy series, and the promise it made to take him away from the real world; Lydia’s escape to her blog every time she needed to ‘detach’ from her real life and pour her energy into something worthwhile; and Dylan’s rut, the constant circle of life he was given: the waking up, and going to school, and going to work, and sleeping cycle that never seemed to end. Zentner made it so easy to identify with characters that spoke to the very soul of his reader’s, because he seemed to know exactly what we felt at every given moment. He knew how to hook us in, and he did it beautifully.
“We live in a series of moments and seasons and sense memories, strung end to end to form a sort of story.”
The Serpent King is a beautiful story of love, loss and growth, and just how hard it is to live in a world that does not want you to live.
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About the Author: 21. A reader, a writer, a reviewer and a full-time sloth lover. I am addicted to coffee and my laptop, and love reading especially when it's rainy outside.