Book Review: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

theserpentkingOfficial Synopsis from Goodreads: 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. 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.

Genre: Young Adult
Setting: Modern day Forrestville, Tennessee
My copy came from: I borrowed this from my local library.


Hype or Like Friday is a Goodreads group hosted by Jill at Rant and Rave About Books, Larkin at Wonderfilled Reads, and Britt at Geronimo Reads.

Review: A powerful, well-written, young adult novel. The Serpent King was the Hype or Like Friday selection for the month of January, and I can honestly say that I would not have picked this book up had it not been the book of the month. The synopsis failed to interest me, and I tend to like more of the fantastical young adult books rather than those based on reality. The Serpent King really surprised me however, as the book was extremely well written, and the characters fully fleshed out and relevant.

I love a witchy, dark, gloomy autumn day, when it rains from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed. And you can listen to Leonard Cohen and wrap yourself up in a warm blanket of exquisite melancholy.

The Serpent King has three main characters, Dill, Lydia, and Travis, with our leading character being Dill. Dill is the son of a minister who is now in prison, and Dill is left with his mother trying to support the family. Dill’s father has very extreme religious thoughts (think drinking poison and holding snakes, etc), and Dill is trying to break free from his family’s past, as there is also sadness with his grandfather’s story.

Lydia is a fashion blogger trapped in small town Tennessee, and I liked her character and her relationship with her parents. In an anomaly for the YA genre, Lydia’s parents are involved, caring, and interested in her life. Her parents talk to her, and they talk to each other, and I appreciated the family dynamic portrayed here.

The other main character is Travis, a big guy who always wears a dragon necklace and carries around a staff and his favorite fantasy novel. He is so secure in his originality and his own self; he really reminded me of some people that I know in real life, and my heart broke for Travis. There was an air of sadness around him (around this whole book really), and I really connected to Travis. He was my favorite character of the book.

People live quiet lives and that’s okay. There’s dignity in that, no matter what you may think.

I loved the relationship between the three characters. Their friendship was real, as Lydia is somewhat embarrassed about both Dill and Travis, and therefore doesn’t talk about them online with her blogging buddies, as neither of them fit her fashionable image. The relationships are not portrayed as perfect, but rather realistic, with real emotions and actions.

One issue I had with the book is that I’m not sure if the book was offensive to me as a Christian or not. I’m not really sure what the author was trying to state here about religion and Christianity. Dill’s struggle with his very extreme religion was handled well, but I’m tired of Christians being portrayed as backwards, ridiculous, and hypocritical. (For example how Dill’s parents were portrayed – they both made me so angry because they were awful!). Dill was portrayed realistically I thought, as a kid growing up with parents involved with an extreme viewpoint, and struggling against that extreme. The religion portrayed here, while stated as Christian, is not my Christianity, so I struggle with a book portraying something that isn’t true. I would hate for someone to have this book be the only instance of Christianity that they see; they would run far away from the religion if so, as the religious are portrayed here as being crazy (for lack of a better word) and bad, unkind people. But I’m not exactly sure what the author’s intent was. There are extreme people out there in the world, but I just wish there had been a character in the book that was Godly and true and showed another side of Christianity, to show some variation in religious views. It seemed like the only option in the small town was to be a believer with extreme poison-drinking, snake-holding views, or to have no religion at all.

I’m tired of this town. Do you know what it’s like? To have his name? To wear that millstone around your neck? The stares and whispers? The weight of this blood?

Another problem I had with the book is that once a certain event happens about two thirds through, the book lost its steam, and I lost almost all interest in the book. I think I was just too emotionally drained to want to continue reading, and while the ending was very good, my emotions had already been spent, so I was reading with a detached air towards the end. I think this was self-preservation because that middle section killed me.

And if you’re going to live, you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things.

All in all, I’m glad that I read this book. This is why I love book clubs and online book groups. It gets me out of my comfort zone and gets me to read something I wouldn’t normally pick up. While The Serpent King may have been too melancholy for me, it had beautiful characters and an overall truly beautiful theme about life that is very powerful. Definitely a LIKE for me! I rated this 4 stars on Goodreads, and it just missed being a 5-star book due to the issues I had with the way religion was portrayed here.

Bottom Line: The Serpent King shattered my heart into a million little pieces. Definitely read this book with Kleenex nearby!


Links to The Serpent King on Amazon   |   Goodreads

Have you read The Serpent King? What did you think? Were you left cleaning up the pieces of your heart? Does this sound like a book you’d like to read?


20 thoughts on “Book Review: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

  1. Great review. I thought this book looked very interesting when I first came across it. I’m not sure it’s for me, with so many other books in my mountainous TBR, but I def. enjoyed reading your review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! This book really surprised me, and the characters were very compelling. I think that if you were initially drawn to the synopsis you’ll probably really love this!


  2. Fab review! The first time I saw that cover I thought the book was fantasy so I was not interested. Then I was told it was entirely different. But I couldn’t take part in this month’s read unfortunately. I am glad you enjoyed it 🙂 I totally see your point about religion. Sometimes an author goes to the extreme for the sake of the story and gives an image of religion that does not reflect what many people belonging to this religion live and believe in. It is a complicated subject.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Yeah, it’s contemporary, nothing fantasy about it at all. Yeah, I agree that authors tend to go for the extreme – makes for a more dramatic story, and I think that is what was happening here.


  3. Great review! I’m not religious, but even I often struggle with the way religion is sometimes shown in books as if it’s something odd or even bad. The religious people I know are all just ordinary people, believers, not fanatics.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Yeah, it’s frustrating how religion is almost always portrayed as bad or weird in books & media. Yeah, I wish there had been an ordinary believer portrayed here, I think it would’ve made the story a bit more interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great review! I’m so glad that we were able to bring you out of your reading comfort zone with this book! I’m also a big fantasy reader so this was a different book for me to read as well. I loveddddd this story so much. And Travis was definitely my favorite character too! I also totally can see where you’re coming from in regards to how Christianity is portrayed in this book. What I took it as as there are just many different types of beliefs and how Dill struggled with reconciling his personal beliefs with those of his family and community. Christianity is so diverse (like all religions!) and I thought it was interesting to see how Zentner chose such an extreme viewpoint for this book. Religion is such a difficult topic to portray in a book that it’s rarely used as a focal point, especially in YA.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Yeah – it was a great read and has made me re-think reading YA Contemporary. It’s really a great discussion book as there are so many things to talk about.
      Yeah, religion is tough to write about, as surely no matter what is written someone will be offended by it! Maybe that’s why it really isn’t written about that much, especially in YA. I don’t know what the stats are for how many people are involved in some form of religion, but I think it is a high number that doesn’t correspond to how little representation it gets in books. And by that I mean books that aren’t shelved in the “religious” section in the bookstore. I think with the whole focus on diversity that we are starting to get more mentions of different religions in books, which is good.
      I liked reading Dill’s struggle with his religion – that struggle felt real and honest, and I liked how the author portrayed his struggle.
      Aw, Travis! I just love him so much.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. There is room for corruption in every religion, but I wouldn’t worry that this is how people view all Christians. Then again, on the other hand, most people in the United States see a few Muslims who are extremists and think all Muslims are like that…perhaps the author was trying to show a shoe-on-the-other-foot situation?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, absolutely! My issue is that it just isn’t this one book – it is in almost every book, tv show, movie, etc set in modern times. The Christian or religious person (it doesn’t even need to be Christianity!) is deemed “odd” and “strange” and “out there”. It’s irritating.
      But with this particular book, I couldn’t tell the author’s intent – if he was just portraying an extreme religion, or if he was trying to state that all Christians were like this. I don’t really think the latter was his point, which was why I wasn’t entirely sure I was offended (if that makes any sense). But, it wasn’t clear, so I dunno…
      And yeah, there’s a big issue right now about perception of Muslims. I’m just about to start the book I Am Malala for book club, and I’m interested to read it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I keep seeing movies and books about Puritans, namely that Witch movie, and I think people are so fascinated that they are looking for modern representations of Puritans to figure out how it’s still a thing. I would assume that is why many people are interested in Mormons from an outsider’s perspective. For instance, if you ever read anything by Brian Evenson, it will blow your mind. Check out his story:

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Interesting! No, I haven’t ever read anything or even heard of Brian Evenson before this. He sounds interesting.
          I’ve always had a fascination for religion and learning about other religions and what/why people believe what they believe. I even took a comparative religion class in college, and I wish I could remember what I learned!
          Thanks for the recommendation!


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