Sunday, June 13, 2010

Review: The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood ★★★

The Poison Diaries (The Poison Diaries)Description: Jessamine Luxson lives with her father, Thomas, an apothecary, in an isolated cottage near Alnwick Castle. Thomas’s pride and obsession is his locked garden full of dangerous plants, which Jessamine is forbidden to enter.

When a traveler brings an orphan to their cottage, he claims the boy has special gifts that Thomas might value. Jessamine is drawn to the strange but intriguing boy, called Weed. Soon their friendship deepens into love. Finally, Weed shares his secret: He can communicate with plants. For him they have distinct personalities—and some are even murderous. From the locked garden the poisonous plants call to Weed, luring him with promises of deadly power.

When Jessamine falls inexplicably ill, only Weed’s relationship with the Poisons can save her. But Thomas is determined to exploit Weed’s abilities, even if it risks Jessamine’s life—or drives Weed to the brink of madness...

My Review:
I read this pre-release ebook on I must admit that I'm not generally a fan of reading ebooks on the computer - I like to be able to travel while reading: the bed, the couch, the floor, at the table while I eat, etc. So I don't read a lot of books at the computer, but a lot depends on if the book is worth it. If it engages me and keeps me interested, then I don't notice that I'm tethered as much.

This one definitely kept me interested, and engaged. I really enjoyed it, and in fact up until the last quarter of the book, I'd have given it 4 stars rather than the 3 it got. But I'll explain that later.

This is the story of Jessamine, her apothecary father, and a strange orphan teen who comes into their lives, Weed. After her mother's illness and subsequent death, Jessamine has lived secluded from the world with only her father for company, when he's not off trying to cure the sick and dying, that is. Even when he is home, much of his time is spent in the pursuit of knowledge regarding the plants that he's collected from all over the globe, trying to resurrect methods and recipes for tinctures and the like that have been lost to time. Needless to say, Jessamine leads a solitary life, and is lonely... until Weed comes.

Weed is something of a blank slate when we meet him. He doesn't speak, he doesn't eat, will only drink water. He's a bit of a mystery - he doesn't know how old he is, where he comes from, except that he was raised by a Friar until the Friar's death and then passed along to an asylum as a ward afterward. Due to an uncanny, and not very good for business ability to heal and sooth the sick inhabitants of the asylum, he was packed off to the apothecary to see if there was use for him there. He has a profound knack for recognizing the uses of a plant and how they will work together - a skill that Jessamine's father covets.

This book reminded me of a few other books that I've read not too long ago, or rather little pieces of it did... Usually, I'm not a fan of that, but this book was unique enough that it wasn't really an issue. And it was more of a kind of undertone than anything pointedly borrowed or reminiscent of those books. I won't mention the books here as I don't want to influence anyone's opinion of this book incorrectly - and really there aren't real comparisons between them at all. Just the same kind of feeling that I had reading them as this... which probably makes no sense at all. ;)

The writing in this book was lovely... The book is written in a kind of journovel style, with chapter headers that are like journal entries, and then it shifts to regular first-person narration, until the last quarter of the book, where everything goes a little... wonky. But take this quote, from one of the chapter headers:
The air is perfumed with spring. The sun warms the skin and melts the heart, and everything grows with abandon. Roots stretch deep in the earth to satisfy their thirst. Stalks race upward, propelled by joy. Leaves flutter and dance, buds swell and shameless blossoms unfurl and offer themselves freely to the sky.
I can scarcely sleep at night; I am too restless with excitment. In the long green history of the world, there has never been a season such as this. If this is what love does to the world, how could anyone plant a garden without it?
You can just tell that Jessamine is in love writing that. She doesn't even need to say it.

And I must say that this book gives whole new meaning to "flowery" writing. Rather than just anthropomorphism (giving human characteristics to inanimate objects, or here, plants etc), there's also a reversal with botanomorphism (giving plantlike qualities to human characteristics). I very much liked this aspect of the book. I thought it was unique and it lent a authenticity to the story being told. I also liked that the plants were, without giving too much away, powerful and intelligent.

Sticking to the writing for a little bit longer, I have to mention that towards the end, the narration and the story veered off in an unexpected and kind of disappointing manner. In order to explain, I'll have to give a little background, and I'll try not to spoil anything. Jessamine, our principle narrator and journal keeper, falls ill - too ill to keep writing after a certain point - so Weed takes up her journal for her. Yet, from this point on, the story alternates between Weed's narration and Jessamine's dreamlike visions. These seemed unnecessary, and out of place to me, and could have been handled in a much better way. Not only because the information in these sections isn't needed to follow or progress the storyline, but also because who the heck is writing them? It's not Jessamine, she's far too sick, and it's not Weed because unless he's a mind-reader, he'd have no way to know she was even having them.

Aside from this, I quite liked the story, although I had hoped for a different outcome... but maybe a sequel is in the works...?

This was definitely an enjoyable read, and I would recommend it to people who enjoy YA as something different from the usual girl-meets-mysterious-boy fare... just take the ending with a grain of salt.

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  1. Very cool summary and review! From what I read, this story kind of reminds of a short story by Hawthorne, about an Italian doctor and his daughter Beatrice.

  2. Looks very interesting. The title makes me mix it up with Poison Study by Maria Snyder.
    I gave you the Versatile Blogger Award on my blog -

  3. Thank you Irena! The only Hawthorne I've read is "The Scarlet Letter", but now I'll have to look for that one to see if I can read it. ;)

  4. Wow! Thanks so much Alison! I really appreciate it! :D