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The Poison Diaries

Review

The Poison Diaries

Maryrose Wood, with [2]

In the antiquated England of the 18th century, Thomas Luxton works as an apothecary, traveling across the countryside to tend to the sick and wounded. His daughter Jessamine labors as his assistant near Alnwick Castle, tenderly cultivating their diverse gardens through the spring and summer. Jessamine's superb botanical knowledge is nearly as impressive as her father's, and the only species she knows little of are poisonous varieties he has procured from around the world. Thomas has personally nurtured these behind the walls of his ominous locked garden, grounds where Jessamine is prohibited from visiting. He’s secretive about what he keeps there, detailing his observations in a notebook he’s hidden. That he’s refused Jessamine access to this vexes her increasingly as she comes of age, though the greater concern has always been how lonely she is. 

The arrival of a 16-year-old boy named Weed within the greenery of Jessamine's secluded world changes things for them both at once. He is a soft-spoken, ragged young man who keeps to himself and behaves as though he has survived some trauma. He never has lived in a proper home and came to their cottage from a madhouse. The curator of the institution had become unwilling to keep him due to some incidents involving the boy's personal brews. The rumor is that Weed's concoctions made the wretches of the asylum sane again, but after the curator complained about the boy having cured many patients, the facility's well was discovered to be tainted. Those who drank this water found themselves behaving like madmen, and so Weed was cast off to be left on any doorstep that would take him in. So it was because of Thomas's peculiar occupation that Weed was brought to live with them.  

In a short time, Jessamine and her father have become astounded by the boy's unparalleled knowledge about the complicated properties of various herbs and plants. He is intimately familiar with the curative properties of many substances, and it seems he must have been trained by an advanced herbalist. Thomas immediately becomes intent on tapping into the boy's vast resources, but Weed refuses to speak on the subject. While Jessamine knows he's hiding something, it's much more significant to her that she now has a true friend and companion. Weed is someone in whom she alone sees a special virtue, and though he is at times strange and naive, he has an honest heart and is very protective of her. Jessamine finds herself increasingly interested in him and surprised by a blooming physical attraction they share.

After many days of working and enjoying the gardens side by side, Jessamine finally becomes bold enough to make some reticent advances. Once this interest is returned, the two envision a future together. They fall deeply in love and struggle at times to hold on to their virtue. But Weed is keeping a secret about himself that he's reluctant to share, and the eventual discovery of this and the mysteries of the poison garden will ultimately return to haunt them all.

As suggested by the title, THE POISON DIARIES is written in diary format and is a parable centered on medicinal herbology. This is primarily Jessamine's story, a sweet, caring and often very dejected girl. The entry of Weed into her life leads to some fantastic yet tumultuous experiences for both of them, many of which take place in their rapt enjoyment of the natural world. Renderings of the scenery are breathtakingly clear and poetic. Descriptions of characters are equally insightful. The book's tone is at turns whimsical and foreboding. It reads for the most part like a fairy tale but with a surprising amount of depth. There are some shocking turns of plot in store for readers and an open ending that leaves plenty of room for a sequel. It is likely that audiences will be delighted and utterly astonished by this alluring, unusual fantasy.

Reviewed by Melanie Smith on July 20, 2010

The Poison Diaries
Maryrose Wood, with [2]

  • Publication Date: June 21, 2011
  • Genres: Historical Fantasy
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Balzer + Bray
  • ISBN-10: 0061802387
  • ISBN-13: 9780061802386