Book Review: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

The only antidote to all this venom is his friendship with fellow outcasts Travis and Lydia. But as they are starting their senior year, Dill feels the coils of his future tightening around him. The end of high school will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is happy wherever he is thanks to his obsession with the epic book series Bloodfall and the fangirl who may be turning his harsh reality into real-life fantasy. Dill’s only escapes are his music and his secret feelings for Lydia—neither of which he is brave enough to share. Graduation feels more like an ending to Dill than a beginning. But even before then, he must cope with another ending—one that will rock his life to the core.

Debut novelist Jeff Zentner provides an unblinking and at times comic view of the hard realities of growing up in the Bible Belt, and an intimate look at the struggles to find one’s true self in the wreckage of the past.

This was an understated book that you never realise how and its is only when you are fully entrenched in the book, the characters alike is the moment when you realise the profound effect this book will end up having on you!

Told in perspectives of Dill, Lydia and Travis – three high school seniors, in the course of one year – one year over which they understand who they are, their fight for their own identity and the path that they have to carve for themselves rather than the path that has been set for them!

“Someday you’ll learn that you’re no better than your own name.”

Dill is a boy whose followed by the life that has been laid down for him by his father and the consequences of his actions – a pastor who is in jail for an unspeakable crime. He knows that the life that has been laid for him, but he finds himself scared to find a new way.

Lydia is a girl who is going places; she owns a fashion blog that has already been places, and with a home life that is the most stable of the three, she is wilful and definitely knows her mind and her path in life.

Travis is the one who is visibly the most different – a reader, who adores his fandom of fantasy series, Bloodfall – he is a big guy who dresses in black, wears a dragon necklace and carries a handmade staff everywhere.

These are your three characters – characters who you don’t even know you are invested in, until you reach a point in the story where the authors crushes your heart without a single inflection of an incoming tragedy.

“Some fall in glorious ways. On green fields of battle as old warriors, surrounded by friends, fighting for their homes, fighting for cruelty. 

Some fall in the crawling dirt, in the dark, impossibly young and alone, for no good reason at all.” 

And I was done. I honestly, till then, did not realise how much all of them had come to mean to me – how much I wanted all three of them to find their path, the life they deserved to live and the happiness that they deserved to find.

Jeff Zetner is a master storyteller – he writes in such a simple yet beautiful way that you do not even realise that you are falling in love, in love with the words and in love with the way he has so expertly and so persuasively described what exactly depression is like – what depression does to you. Without fanfare, without additives and without dramatization; which has made me a fan for his life.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a book that you would never believe could be one that would have you reaching for tissues and applauding the courage of the author.  


⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ .5


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