A Fierce and Subtle Poison will be available for purchase on Tuesday, April 12th!
**I received a physical advance review copy of A Fierce and Subtle Poison courtesy of Algonquin Young Readers in exchange for an honest review**
A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry. Algonquin Young Readers, 2016. 288 pages. Softcover/paperback.
First, I have to say that A Fierce and Subtle Poison has, hands down, one of the most gorgeous covers that I've seen so far this year. I distinctly remember opening the package from Algonquin, unsure of what book lay inside, and pulling out this incredibly enticing and gorgeous book.
A Fierce and Subtle Poison centers around the story of Lucas, a seventeen-year-old boy who spends his summers with his father in beautiful Puerto Rico. Growing up, he has been surrounded by stories about a cursed girl with green skin and grass hair. Lucas' girlfriend goes missing one day, and he is then inexplicably drawn to Isabel, a girl filled with poison who cannot so much as touch someone - the cursed girl.
This was an extremely enjoyable and rather quick read, as I was immediately hooked and thus able to power through it in only a couple days. The premise of the story itself is fresh and remarkable, and I loved the setting of Puerto Rico. Mabry brought the entire island to life with its rich characters, culture, descriptions, and overall atmosphere - I definitely now have the urge to visit.
A Fierce and Subtle Poison is beautifully written with a fluid, almost lyrical-like prose at times that made this book a breeze to read through. Regardless of the plot or characters, the writing style itself is well-developed and displays talent. The pacing is not very consistent, however, as it moves rather slowly at times, then suddenly fast and rushing, almost leaving me behind wondering what was happening.
The characters are all very distinct in their personalities, but there is a lack of fleshing out that caused them to suffer. A few characters appear too one-dimensional, while others, such as Lucas, are much more developed, which created a sort of double layer in which part of the book was well-developed and strong, while the other part appeared weaker. There was also a lack of chemistry between many important characters, and I failed to see how such strong relationships could have formed between various people in such short amounts of time. Lucas' actions are a bit random at times as well; I wasn't entirely sure what his motivation was, besides the obvious attempts to find his girlfriend, but even then it just didn't account for all of his actions.
This book fell short in its lack of explanation. The storyline has much promise and potential, but I feel like Mabry didn't quite delve as deep into the elements of the story as she could have. While there is an abundance of folktale and myth-like stories that add a deep level of culture and atmosphere, I think she spent too much time on those and not enough on the present day issues. I understood that Isabel was born with poison inside her that makes others sick - but how exactly? There is a backstory, but it only left me with more questions. The ending is open-ended, which I do enjoy in books, but I felt sort of jilted when I finished, and I haven't yet decided if it was a good feeling or a bad one.
Overall, I found this to be an exceptional magical realism book that was very compelling and entertaining to read, so I will be giving A Fierce and Subtle Poison three-and-a-half stars.
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