This Poison Heart is the first book in a new series from Kalynn Bayron, the author of Cinderella is Dead. It follows a teenage girl named Briseis who has a natural affinity for plants. She has always been able to make plants grow, and they’ve always gravitated toward her. However, Briseis has never fully understood this power, because she is an adoptee who never knew her birth parents. Just when her family’s financial situation is starting to get concerning she finds out that her birth mother left her a house when she died – a house with an apothecary and a garden full of poisonous plants that Briseis alone can handle. Briseis moves her family into this new house, and begins the process of uncovering the mysteries of her birth family and her own power. This was one of my most anticipated books of 2021, and I am very grateful to Netgalley for giving me an ARC in exchange for an honest revie.
Inspired by Greek mythology, by The Secret Garden and by Little Shop of Horrors, This Poison Heart is a fun and lighthearted YA novel that puts a refreshing spin on a lot of classic stories. It captures the wonder of The Secret Garden and incorporates Greek mythology in a way that I didn’t expect at all but really enjoyed. Also, almost every single character is Black, gay, or both. The characters’ identities are never the focus of the narrative, but they are explored, and they do make the story more interesting. For instance, the protagonist’s sexuality is never labelled or treated like a big deal, but her main love interest is a woman. It’s a great example of casual diversity – non-white and non-straight characters just being allowed to exist within a fantasy story.
Bayron’s writing is smart and engaging. The book is full of twists and turns, with never a dull moment as our protagonist unravels the mystery of her parentage and her own magical abilities. The story is really easy to follow, too, and I found myself instantly interested in every single character and invested in their relationships with each other. The main romance is a sapphic twist on a very popular trope in fictional straight couples, and I loved it, but the emotional core of the book really lies in Briseis’s relationship with her adoptive moms. I absolutely loved the family dynamic, and I especially appreciated how the story explored the complicated dynamics of a character trying to learn more about her birth parents while maintaining a really close relationship with her adoptive parents. It was so interesting and heartwarming and probably my favourite part of the book.
My one small complaint about This Poison Heart is that it sometimes feels like the story doesn’t have much direction. There’s a lot happening, but it’s not always entirely clear why the central mystery is important or where the story is going. This book very much exists to set up a fantasy series, and it does a good job of that, but it does unfortunately fall into the trap of spending so much time laying the foundation of the series that things don’t really start happening until the last 100 pages. It took me about a week to read the book; I was never bored while reading it, but it was never at the forefront of my mind that I needed to find out what happens next. It was overall a nice reading experience, though, and after the ending, I’m very excited to see where the series goes!
This Poison Heart comes out June 29th, 2021.