This YA fantasy stars a pair of snake princes who must navigate a world of wonder and deception.
In the snake-filled realm of Snaygill, King Amar, a king cobra, summons all of his serpentine subjects to the Tree of Spiritus to witness the birth of his heirs. After hatching, two young sneyklings named Neddris and Ophis survive an attack from a bird of prey called the earruda; Neddris escapes with a crescent-shaped wound on his head. Once home at the Evanescent Palace of the Nagas, King Amar charges Zahra, a nanny, to watch over his princes, since their mother abandoned their nest. Soon, the princes begin studying meditation and yoga with Sage Raja at the School of Deception. They also learn the Ten Vindications, the first of which is “Good and evil are a part of us, as our forked tongues imply.” They also play Snakes and Ladders, a mystical game that unleashes the witch Hisskates; she warns Ophis against trusting the number three and Neddris about taking his royal crescent imprint for granted. In further adventures that test the brothers’ willingness to deceive, they encounter Helianthus the hissing sunflower, Ratto and his Gorgonzola gang, and Mallicegai, the lovely gypsy. Of course, Ophis and Neddris realize that only one of them can inherit Snaygill’s throne. Debut author Assor uses the narrative potential of snakes to great creative (and comedic) effect, building a world that should awaken the herpetologist in any reader. Peppered throughout the tale are snake facts, as when Neddris begins shedding: “Your eyes are ‘milky’ as we say. That is why it is difficult for you to see.” Assor’s conceit that Snaygill is a world similar to ours, but populated by snakes, results in frequent puns and pointed absurdities, like Zahra’s use of a “handbag.” These moments are balanced by wonderful messages that humans can benefit from: e.g., “Use...your imagination to explore your virtues and not your vices.” The calamitous twist ending guarantees readers will be slithering back for the sequel.
A fanciful, thought-provoking adventure.