Review: A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry

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Though, admittedly, this is a two-star review, this book wasn’t half bad. It had a strong beginning and a fairly poetic ending, but it’s always that pesky middle part of a novel that can really lose a reader if it’s done wrong. Plus, I couldn’t get over the fact that the blurb kinda lied to me.

The story is about seventeen-year-old Lucas spending his summer with his hotel-developer father in Puerto Rico, wondering what do with his life and engaging in illicit smoochies with his new girlfriend. The beginning was long, intent on setting up the scene intricately, but I enjoyed it. I liked Lucas; he was a nice guy with his fair share of believable flaws. He felt like a real person, which is a hard write and I can respect an author who can pull it off. We learn a lot about his life and his troubles, and the fact that he uses far too much random Spanish for his own good.

“According to her, some viejo don on Calle Vecinto called in a tip claiming that a group of kids, included el chico rico (the rich kid: me) were down on the pier, acting all borracho, smashing beer bottles, and scaring las turistas.”

It was a good set up, it felt a bit like the beginning of Anna Dressed in Blood, but that may be largely to do with the supernatural elements that I was waiting not-so-patiently for.

There’s this girl on the island, you see. She’s more of a legend; they say she has green skin and grass for hair, and she’s filled to the brim with poison. According to the blurb of the book, Lucas “finds himself lured into her strange and enchanted world” and I was very excited for this. It sounded very Gaiman, very Hardinge, and I know I have no one to blame but myself for having these expectations but there was nothing interesting or magical about the mysterious poison girl.
It’s supposed to be magical realism. Is it? Well…

I don’t know, I guess you could call it that if you want to. But for me, this whole poison girl’s deal wasn’t magic, it was sciency-type-stuff. At the end of the day, yeah, it felt more like a weird botanical anomaly than magical realism.

I didn’t like poison girl (Isabel, by the way, but I’m liking poison girl). She wasn’t an interesting character, which is almost impressive since she’s fucking poisonous, but nope she did nothing for me. Worse still, Lucas got a little but relegated to the part of secondary character once poison girl fully showed up, which was a poor choice. And their time together wasn’t a magical jaunt into some enchanted realm. Sure, that was my own brain devising its own expectations, but no matter the bias: I was disappointed. I wasn’t looking for the poorly executed murder mystery the plot turned out to be. It didn’t fit; these characters should not have been up to that, they were just so clunky and unsure of themselves, which perfectly fit the narrative truth be told.

“I’m sure once we’re out on the road, I can find them again.”

I had to believe her. I had no choice. This mission was set in motion, and unless I wanted to take off by myself and search the entire island with nothing to guide me but weakly burning hope, I was forced to follow Isabel’s lead.

As I said, I did like the beginning, and I liked our MC. If a reader went into this looking for a murder mystery with a hint of what passes as magical realism, they may enjoy it. After all, it’s an easy read and it’s not terribly written, it just failed on a few key factors for me.

 

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