by Vanessa Di Gregorio
One word: breathtaking.
There is just something about those stories that just seem to slowly creep up on you – the ones that are quietly beautiful – that just takes my breath away. And Maryrose Wood’s The Poison Diaries does just that. I could not put this book down; it ensnared me right from the first page of its lyrical prose. And the ominous poison garden was just such a foreboding image; one that intrigued me as much as it does Jessamine, the protagonist. Full of vibrant imagery, romance, mystery, and even – at times – terror, I fell absolutely in love with this novel. There was even a touch of fantasy filling its pages, washing everything with a surreal beauty that is just captivating.
To start off, here is a quick summary of the novel from Harpercollins:
In the right dose, everything is a poison. Even love . . .
Jessamine Luxton has lived all her sixteen years in an isolated cottage near Alnwick Castle, with little company apart from the plants in her garden. Her father, Thomas, a feared and respected apothecary, has taught her much about the incredible powers of plants: that even the most innocent-looking weed can cure — or kill.
When Jessamine begins to fall in love with a mysterious boy who claims to communicate with plants, she is drawn into the dangerous world of the poison garden in a way she never could have imagined . . .
The entire premise is great; reminiscent of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story Rappacinni’s Daughter, the story is based on a concept by The Duchess of Northumberland – and her famous Poison Garden at Alnwick Castle. And yet, this story remains utterly unique. The story centers around Jessamine Luxton, whose father is an apothecary, and a strange and mysterious young orphan who stumbles into their lives. While her father leaves to heal others, Jessamine is alone with only the plants for companionship; but when that strange boy appears, Jessamine suddenly has someone other than the plants and her father to talk to. And Weed seems to be in possession of great knowledge when it comes to plants; a knowledge that will prove to be quite dangerous.
The plot moves quickly, though there is little in terms of physical action. No sweeping swords here or a tremendous amount of fighting; and yet, I was never bored. The plot is well-paced, and there is conflict between the characters and their surroundings. The entire story never strays far from the little cottage that Jessamine inhabits; or from the castle, garden, and fields surrounding it. And yet I was thoroughly immersed in the world that was built, and in the characters inhabiting it.
At the beginning of each chapter is a short journal entry; after, the story continues in first person. There is just something that I loved about reading the little snippet of a journal entry before the prose continued. The journal entries become integral to the plot, and are very cleverly used. And the prose! Absolutely lovely. I was completely enchanted. Jessamine’s voice is an absolute pleasure to read; thoughtful and curious and full of wonder. And her character was just as lovely. She is innocent, and wonderfully flawed. She doesn’t always do what she should, or what is right; and that made me love her character even more. Weed is just as fantastic a character. He starts off as a blank slate; a silent character who doesn’t speak, and a character so devoid of attachment to people. Everything about him is a mystery. But oh, how thrilling it was to see him grow! To see him fill up with emotion, and become a character of unbelievable loyalty.
Thomas Luxton was also a magnificently crafted character. There is always the sense that he is much darker and more cruel than he appears to be, and this ambiguity made him such a wonderfully dubious character. And I loved having no clear cut line between good and evil; he heals people for a living, and as such is good. But I always felt as though there was something untrustworthy about him at times. Which, in my mind, was brilliant on Wood’s part.
But quite possibly the most fascinating character of all became the plants. Maryrose Wood was able to make the flowers and trees and bushes come to life with such vitality and force. But she was also able to make them frightening; the poisonous plants exude a threatening presence that I felt throughout the course of the novel. This was the most unique aspect to this novel; the almost human qualities that the plants seemed to possess.
And that ending! When I finished reading it, I was still under the impression that this was a stand-alone novel, and that there were no sequels to follow. And I loved the ending. It was dark, and sad, and so absolutely brilliant. Some might complain that it isn’t satisfying; but I thought it suited the book so perfectly, and was such a brave and lovely ending. To know that it is the first of a trilogy makes me happy, for I’ve become incredibly attached to the world and characters. But the fact that it has a sequel is not the reason I first loved the ending; Maryrose Wood wrote an ending that fits the mood of the entire book.
So, I highly recommend The Poison Diaries. If you love fantasy, or tragedy, or romance, or lyrical prose, then you’ll probably love this book as much as I did. And you’ll probably want the sequel to come out as much as I do. So, pick this book up; I promise you’ll love it.
ARC Received From Publisher
Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.