Book review: The Poison Diaries

The Poison Diaries
Foxglove,Oleander, Moonseed and Belladonna… in the right dose these plants could either be a cure or a poison, but at the end of the day, no poison proves greater than that of human greed.

The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood (HarperCollins)

16-year old Jessamine Luxton lives with Thomas, her apothecary father in a gothic and dilapidated cottage near Alnwick Castle. Isolated from the village (and pretty much everyone else), Jess lives a very lonely life.

Yet, in spite of her rather lonely existence, the one thing that brings her joy is being able to tend to tend to her father's gardens which are filled with all sorts of wonderful and curious botanical life. 

She has access to almost every part of their household with the exception of Thomas's locked garden which is filled with dangerously poisonous plants - and which Jess is strictly forbidden to enter.  

When a local visitor from the surrounding village brings a scared, withdrawn and deeply mistrusting boy to their house, he claims that the boy has special gifts and talents that Thomas might find very useful and very valuable.

For her part, Jess finds herself increasingly interested in and drawn to the strange boy, whose name happens to be Weed.

As their friendship deepens, and his initial mistrust of her slowly disappears, new feelings between the two are discovered and explored. Yet, Jess can't help but notice that Weed has some rather peculiar habits and reacts to certain things rather differently than most normal human beings would. Naturally she becomes suspicious and soon begins to suspect that he is hiding something from her.

When he finally confesses that he is able to communicate with plants, and that the plants behind the locked gate are luring and calling to him, it unleashes events and consequences that will be dangerous for everyone involved, but particularly for Jessamine.

My thoughts:

I have wanted to read this book for the longest time now.

When I first read the synopsis, I immediately thought that the concept of a poison garden sounded unbelievably interesting because it was something I haven't really heard of done in YA fiction before and because I was curious to see what the author would do with the subject matter.

Let's face it - most young people (myself included) have this stereotypical notion of gardening being nothing but a boring pastime best left to the older generation. 

And as someone who loves to have her preconceived notions challenged, I wanted to see just what Maryrose Wood would do in order to garner my interest in the subject. Of course, the fact that there was a love story woven into the story also helped to seal the deal for me.

When I received the book (this cover came without an expanded synopsis), I actually dived right into it without refreshing my memory as to just what The Poison Diaries was about - which is something I never do because I like to know what the book is about.

Yet, for all that, I found myself quickly very wrapped up in the story.

For those who don't know (and I was one of them), The Poison Diaries is actually based on a concept by The Duchess of Northumbarland, who happens to be responsible for creating The Poison Garden at the Alnwick Gardens which is situated adjacent to Alnwick Castle.

I wasn't sure what to think of this book at first, because I haven't read all that many historical young adult fiction novels and the formal writing and tone, at first, felt rather stiff and affected to me. It didn't take long before I changed my mind though.

Written loosely in a diary format, Maryrose's writing actually works quite well in this format. There is such a simplistic and subtle beauty to her writing that you can't help but feel as if she herself took a trip back in time in order to authenticate the world that she writes about in The Poison Dairies.

As an ardent fan of atmospherically gothic novels, Maryrose just has this wonderful ability to say more with so much less (and in doing so, conveying  the sense of a world shrouded in secrecy), which is why I came to love the formal language structure of this novel. The novel is not what I would consider overly dark, but there are enough nuances to suggest a sort of sinister, wicked beautiful atmosphere that is atmospherically dreamy and forbidding at the same time.

What I also adored about this novel, is the description of the plants. Moonseed. Belladonna. Foxglove and Oleander - beautiful names are they not? I never actually thought that plants could be alluring and sinisterly seductive until I read this.

The plants really come alive under the hands of Maryrose and I often found myself getting sucked in and wishing I could enter the forbidden gate to experience the enticing call of the plants myself -  even if it meant that I would have to forfeit my life in the process.

Character wise, I thought Jess and Weed are incredibly likeable characters, but I have to admit that I felt as if I wasn’t given enough time to get to know them properly. But, I'll explain why when I get to the criticism of this novel. 

As for Thomas, Jessamine's father, I found him to be stern and unyielding and developed an instant dislike for him.  Turns out that there is a very good reason why, but I can't really add anything further without spoiling it for you. The story also has a supernatural element to it that really caught me off guard, but which I found incredibly intriguing and that I really hope to learn more about.

As much as I loved this book, I did find that Jessamine accepted Weed's gift almost too quickly. I suspect that the fact that she has lived without anyone else but her father's company for so long, could probably be a reason for this, but I would have like to have seen her struggle a little more with the knowledge. To go back on my previous criticism, I also felt that this book was a rather short read.

It's not a bad thing per say, but for me it felt like the action was just beginning to really take hold, when the story came to the cliffhanger ending that it did.

Luckily, I found out that this is the first instalment in a trilogy, so I'm looking forward to seeing how the characters develop and learning more about that supernatural element that intrigued me so. Of course, I'm also very curious as to just what happens with Jess and Weed, so I'll be on the lookout for any news about the next instalment in this book!

Other than that, I really loved this book and will be looking out for more of Maryrose's work in future!
My final rating: 4/5 stars.


Jenny said…
I'm really intrigued by the sound of this one and the cover alone is enough to make me want to buy it. I often feel I don't get to know the characters well enough in the first book of a series, and it's not until the second or third book that they start to really come to life. Glad to know this one is a good read despite a few shortcomings!
Melissa said…
Great review! This book is one that I keep wanting to read, but never seem to find the time to do so :)
Jan von Harz said…
Excellent review. I did like this book and am wondering if well see another anything in the future. I also looked up the setting and the castle was actually the site for the filming of Hogwarts. Very cool pictures of the Duchess's gardens as well.
Aisle B said…
Have to say 4 out of 5 is pretty impressive. I liked the play on names for Weed and seeing as it all takes place in the mysterious garden's power.
Cliffhanger endings always makes me crave the next book NOW!

Great review and going to see if I can muster up time to check it out further at Indigo next.

Have a great Sunday Tammy Bell :)

PK Bell out

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