REVIEW: Serpent’s Wake by L.E. Daniels
SERPENT’S WAKE by L.E. DANIELS
Novel review by Dave Jeffery
After twelve years trapped in the throat of a serpent, a girl escapes. She returns to her village naked with a monstrous snakeskin trailing behind her. One decision at a time, she reclaims her life. Each character she encounters by land and sea—brute, healer, orphan, mystic, lover—reflects an unhealed aspect of herself and plots her recovery through symbolic milestones. Serpent’s Wake is intended for adults and young adults exploring how, once fractured, we may mend.
As a reader there comes a time when you become so mesmerised in a story, moments pass, and the book is over before you realise. This is what great storytelling does, and great storytelling is exactly what’s on offer in Daniels’ SERPENT’S WAKE.
Set in a land similar to ours, yet without grounding in time or space, Daniels’ fable of a girl who escapes to reclaim her life after many years in the belly of a great snake, is at once fanciful and spellbinding. It is a story that guides the reader through dark themes such as loss, grief, abuse, denial, and isolation; capturing the very essence of detachment that is the uneven road to recovery from great trauma. Daniels uses subtle devices to give the reader some insight into the increased sense of detachment experienced by her protagonist. For example, no character, place, or event is given a name, creating a crushing sense of depersonalisation. But as with all aspects on the journey to effective recovery, hope is at the heart of this book, and its beat is strong and true and embossed in an exquisite narrative that is little short of beautiful.
While the reference points to mental health recovery and a strong sense of hope are at the heart of the narrative, they are interwoven with such skill, their message permeates rather than browbeats, and such is Daniel’s sense of control over her craft, I found myself nodding at the powerful, subtle messages throughout the story. There are constructs that take on deeper meaning and this is where the book becomes its own hermeneutic entity, challenging the reader to peel away the narrative fascia, and peer into the dark layers of meaning beneath. For example, as the titular snake sheds its skin, so too must our protagonist carry this with her, a burden, a reminder of the atrocity that she has endured. There is also the disjointed timeline: reflections, perhaps, of all that is lost during a cycle of abuse and the process of breaking free. Daniel’s leaves all of this for the reader to sample, and just like our protagonist in the belly of the serpent, some of the content is bitter and hard to digest, leaving the reader empathetic to all that the girl has lost. Ultimately, we want her to succeed, we need her to succeed so that we too can take comfort that she will be okay.
Mental health metaphor, transgressive fairy-tale, call it what you will, but SERPENT’S WAKE is a brilliant book, a book for our times. I read it twice within a few months, making sure that I ‘got it’ enough to write a review that gives justice to the creative powerhouse on show.
I expect to revisit this story again and again in the future. At the time of writing, I have now read this book for a third time, and its ability to entrance has not waned in the slightest. An easy choice for recognition as an HWA Mental Health Initiative Notable Work given the sensitivity and exquisite creativity contained throughout this truly wonderful book.
About the Author. Lauren Elise Daniels is an awarded poet, senior editor, best-selling author, mentor, and trainer of professionals, academics, writers and editors. A Johnno Award nominee [2021, 2022] and Aurealis Award-winning co-editor , Lauren has edited 100+ published titles.
Thank you for including Serpent’s Wake in the HWA Wellness Committee’s Notable Works initiative and for such an excellent review!