March 8, 2016 • Cee • Reviews

The Serpent King

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner • March 8, 2016 • Crown Books for Young Readers (Random House)
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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.

He and his fellow outcast friends must try to make it through their senior year of high school without letting the small-town culture destroy their creative spirits and sense of self. Graduation will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is content where he is thanks to his obsession with an epic book series and the fangirl turning his reality into real-life fantasy.

Their diverging paths could mean the end of their friendship. But not before Dill confronts his dark legacy to attempt to find a way into the light of a future worth living.


I received this book for free from Random House for review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

First sentence: “There were things Dillard Wayne Early Jr. dreaded more than the start of Forrestville High.”

With serpent in the title, you know The Serpent King will be a gem.

The Serpent King follows a group of friends—Dillard Early Jr., Lydia Blankenship, and Travis Bohannon—who just want to escape their rural Bible Belt town of Forrestville in Tennessee. However, it’s harder to do so when your family, life, and history is thoroughly rooted to the town. See these teenagers navigate their senior year of high school and the vipers that try to suffocate them.


  • These characters and their story have a way of quiet creeping into your soul.

Told between three alternating points of view, you have:

  • Dillard Early Jr.: son of the disgraced Pentecostal minister; shunned by the residents of Forrestville paying for the sins of his father; and loves singing and playing his guitar even though he hasn’t been able to do it recently.
  • Lydia Blankenship: who runs a popular fashion blog—Dollywould; wears a lot of vintage clothing; and is headed for bigger and better things in NYC, which is where she wants to go to college.
  • Travis Bohannon: obsessed with an epic fantasy series, Bloodfall, to escape an abusive father; a big tall guy who wears a dragon necklace and frequently carries around a staff.

Between the three friends, Dill is the melancholy one who’s afraid of being left with the vipers, Lydia is the glue that holds them together, and Travis is the sweet one who constantly gets lost in his Bloodfall world. They’re all haunted by something or someone, and I just want to give them massive hugs.

You’ll slowly be swept away by these characters’s stories, and you won’t even hear it coming. Not even a rattle.

  • The friendship is everything you ever yearn for.

Dill, Lydia, and Travis are the type of friends who will do absolutely anything for each other. They would jump into a pit of vipers if they were put in that position. Also, I got super emotional because found family galore! With their crappy life in a toxic place, these teenagers make the kind of family they wished to have with each other. They’re so supportive, and push each other to be the best they can be and to be happy.

  • The writing perfectly conveys every emotion and paints vivid images of this world and Tennessee afternoons.

Just sit back and let the writing take you on this beautiful ride. You might not live in the Bible Belt, you might not have personally experience the struggles these teenagers have faced, but boy oh boy, Zentner will make you feel and see every single thing these kids are feeling and seeing and then some with his writing. It’s just so honest about the struggles these teenagers are facing. It’s done with sheer perfection.

I cannot say enough about the gorgeousness of Zentner’s writing. I’m thoroughly impressed. How he weaves sentences together is almost like songs. If you close your eyes, you can hear the music in it. I breathe in, and I take in so much of this world and these characters. I love it.

  • Religion takes root in this story. 

It is woven in a way that makes it clear that it’s an important part of Dill’s and the residents of Forrestville’s upbringing. Readers get to see how Dill approaches his religion and faith since his dad went to prison. You see the conflict he’s dealing with. Jeff Zenter has found a great balance of talking about religion and faith in a way that doesn’t sound preachy or dismissive or shaming.

  • It discusses the power of names and your history.

The residents of Forrestville never lets Dill forget who he is and where he came from. He bears the name of his father and his grandfather’s name, which means he inherits their history and past. I find this so fascinating because it’s one of those discussions I love reading about. What kind of future do you have in a town that hates you for what your parents did and constantly reminds you of how you were bred from poison? It just gets you thinking.

  • The serpent theme is woven in beautifully.

I love the snake imagery in this. It’s so beautiful.

Don’t worry, folks who do not like serpents. It’s not as heavily handed as you expect it to be because of the title. It’s more references and a bit of allegories that allude to them, but nothing that’ll leave you checking the floor to see if a snake is curling around your feet. I actually wished there were more metaphors and such to serpents.

Do I recommend The Serpent King100 TIMES YES. Everything about this book is so beautiful and strong—from the writing to the emphasis of names, to the relationships between the characters. This book has a way of seeping into your soul. It’s like a snake curling around you and tightening until you are overwhelmed by so much emotions and yell ‘uncle.’ I can go on and on and on about this book and why you need to read it, but I won’t because this is a book you absolutely need to experience for your own.


5 Responses to “(ARC) REVIEW | It’s In His Blood (The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner)”

  1. Annika says:

    This sounds awesome, Cee! Adding it to my list, like RIGHT NOW

    • Annika says:

      Also. Lovely review.
      Also also. I love strong friendships. And alternating POVs. And serpents in titles. I’m expecting all the feels.

  2. Aubrey says:

    This looks really good. Great review!

  3. Alexa S. says:

    I honestly wasn’t sure if I wanted to read The Serpent King! But I’ve been seeing such great thoughts on this one, and your review has basically sealed the deal for me. Will be sure to tell you how I felt if/when I read it!

  4. I LOVED this book! So far it’s my favorite of the year and it hit my all-time faves list. I loved this story, I loved these characters. It was a quiet but extremely powerful suckerpunch to the heart.

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