Tuesday, March 29, 2016

look at her go: reviewin reviewin: a fierce and subtle poison

A Fierce and Subtle Poison
Samantha Mabry


release date: April 12


blurb: Everyone knows the legends about the cursed girl--Isabel, the one the señoras whisper about. They say she has green skin and grass for hair, and she feeds on the poisonous plants that fill her family’s Caribbean island garden. Some say she can grant wishes; some say her touch can kill.

Seventeen-year-old Lucas lives on the mainland most of the year but spends summers with his hotel-developer father in Puerto Rico. He’s grown up hearing stories about the cursed girl, and he wants to believe in Isabel and her magic. When letters from Isabel begin mysteriously appearing in his room the same day his new girlfriend disappears, Lucas turns to Isabel for answers--and finds himself lured into her strange and enchanted world. But time is running out for the girl filled with poison, and the more entangled Lucas becomes with Isabel, the less certain he is of escaping with his own life.

full review under the cut! 

I was provided a copy of this book from Algonquin Young Readers and Netgalley, so thanks to them for letting me read this lush, complex novel. First of all, I was amazed that this was Samantha Mabry's debut. She weaves this story with a masterful touch, not too heavy handed with description or dialogue, but a steady balance of both, which I think this story required. It's also just such a weird and different premise, that it took someone who has confidence in what she has to say to pull it off. So I really give props to her, because this could not have been an easy novel to write, and I think she did it brilliantly. 
Second of all.... y'all know I'm going to to talk about this.... that *cover!* It is absolutely stunning, and I think that it went with both the events and also the feeling of the story. I also love the font, which shows up in the section breaks in the novel as well. It's all just really awesome, I love it alot.

Okay, let's talk things I liked about this book. Number one would be the setting. If you've been reading my blog for any amount of time, then you'll know that I am a sucker for a well-developed world. A story could be taking place in the Chick-fil-a that's five minutes from my house or in the weirdest fantasy world ever, it doesn't matter as long as the author makes me feel like I'm there without me having to actually be there. Now, let me just say that I've never been to Puerto Rico. However! Samantha Mabry took me there, and she took me there hard. She took me to the resorts, she took me to the neighborhoods, she took me to the beach, the cities, the forest, the tiny villages: it was super comprehensive and it was lush and it was breathtaking. I just found myself getting swept away in these beautiful descriptions of this island, and even though I've never been there, I feel like I could get around if you dropped me at the house on the end of the street (Calle Sol), then I could navigate myself from there. I don't know if it was because this setting was really different from what I'm used to or because it was just incredibly built, I just fell in love with the Puerto Rico of this book, and I consider that a job well done. 

Secondly, the magical realism element of this book, combined with the sort of mysticism of the plants and the superstition of the people was really cool. I hadn't read something like this before, and the only comparison I can make from the books that I've read is the weird magical power of the MC in Rae Carson's Walk on Earth a Stranger or the witchiness and superstition in the Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, but then, neither of those are quite right either. Basically, there is a girl, Isabel, and she was born with poisonous skin. The poison builds up in her system, and the only way she can purge herself of it so she doesn't die is by transferring it into the plants that her botanist father keeps in their house. When Lucas, our MC, meets Isabel, her disease is worsening, and there is literally nothing that anyone can do to stay this decline. Pair this with the superstitious stories that the neighborhood señoras tell about Isabel, the fact that she never leaves her house, and the odd disappearance of her mother years earlier, and you've got all the ingredients for an awesome conflict there. I won't say anything to the resolution of this conflict, though, but let me just say that it was heartwrenching in the best way. 

The third thing that I liked about this book was the fact that it was kind of a murder mystery as well as a character driven narrative. We have this magical realism and these sort of twisty relationships between Isabel and Lucas and between Isabel and her father and Lucas and her father and Lucas with the native Puerto Ricans and both of them with the island, but then we also have this very clinical side of the narrative where girls are disappearing and dying. I thought that the way those two sides of the story were tied together was super interesting, and I definitely didn't see the way that they came together coming. I also really liked how Lucas wasn't directly involved with either side of this story, but he pushed his way into both of them, so he was a part of how they came together, even though he's kind of an outsider in the community. 

The one thing that fell a little flat for me was just simply the character development. I ended up really liking Lucas and Isabel and even Lucas' friends, but at times I just felt like they were opaque, and that put me off them a little bit. That's the only reason that this is 3.5 stars: not because I didn't enjoy it at all, but just because I felt like it would've pushed it over the edge if I felt more invested in Lucas and Isabel as characters, and not just as people who have interesting stories. 

The ending was super intense, I felt like I couldn't breathe the entire time! I liked how Mabry introduces the murder mystery, then brings in the magical realism, then ties them together and brings it to a head in the last couple chapters. It flowed really well, with the pace getting quicker as the book went on. I would definitely recommend this book to someone looking for something with a cool setting, an interesting premise, a little bit of magic, and a climactic ending.



  1. The intense ending intrigues me but your criticisms make me question whether I'd like this! Great, honest review!

    1. Yeah, I'm very driven by settings when they're good, so that's what was the saving grace for this one! The characters were not my fave though


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