Review Blog

Sep 08 2015

The Serpent Papers by Jessica Cornwell

cover image

Quercus, 2015. ISBN 9781848666733
(Age: 16+) In 2003, three women are brutally murdered in Barcelona. And then, a famous Catalan actress is found dead, sparking the interest of the nation. But before the police can piece together the baffling clues, the killer vanishes without a trace. Ten years later, Anna Verco, book hunter extraordinaire, discovers ancient letters that could help solve the case. However, she is focused on something else: a mysterious, centuries-old text known only as the Serpent Papers. But as the plot thickens and danger begins lurking around every corner, will she able to solve the mystery in time?
The Serpent Papers is the first in the Nightingale trilogy, and the debut novel by author Jessica Cornwell. As the granddaughter of legendary crime writer John Le Carre, one might expect that this novel treads in the same footsteps, but there is little in common with Carre's literary classics to be found here - whether that is good or bad can be left up to the reader.
There are many good things about The Serpent Papers - it has an intriguing setting and some excellent world building through the use of (presumably) fabricated poetry and old texts, which adds a sense of realism that helps ground the more fantastical aspects of the novel.
However, the main issue is that this book is often simply too complicated for its own good. There are too many characters to keep track of and occasionally it's hard to figure out exactly what's happening, simply because the writing style can be quite vague. It jumps around to different settings and time periods, and in the end there are a few too many plot twists and subplots introduced, to the point where it can be downright confusing. This is unfortunate as the novel is frequently excellent, but gradually becomes a struggle to get through.
Ultimately, The Serpent Papers is an impressive, yet inconsistent debut from a promising new author. Readers beware, however - it's not for the light-hearted (or the light reader).
Rebecca Adams (university student)

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