Goodreads: This Poison Heart
Series: The Poison Heart #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Published: June 29, 2021
Briseis has a gift: she can grow plants from tiny seeds to rich blooms with a single touch.
When Briseis’s aunt dies and wills her a dilapidated estate in rural New York, Bri and her parents decide to leave Brooklyn behind for the summer. Hopefully there, surrounded by plants and flowers, Bri will finally learn to control her gift. But their new home is sinister in ways they could never have imagined–it comes with a specific set of instructions, an old-school apothecary, and a walled garden filled with the deadliest botanicals in the world that can only be entered by those who share Bri’s unique family lineage.
When strangers begin to arrive on their doorstep, asking for tinctures and elixirs, Bri learns she has a surprising talent for creating them. One of the visitors is Marie, a mysterious young woman who Bri befriends, only to find that Marie is keeping dark secrets about the history of the estate and its surrounding community. There is more to Bri’s sudden inheritance than she could have imagined, and she is determined to uncover it . . . until a nefarious group comes after her in search of a rare and dangerous immortality elixir. Up against a centuries-old curse and the deadliest plant on earth, Bri must harness her gift to protect herself and her family.
With a smart, determined protagonist, ties to Greek mythology, and magic that permeates our real world, This Poison Heart has a lot of potential, and I can see why Goodreads users are loving it. Personally, however, I was put off by poor pacing, clunky characterization, and general vagueness about the magic system, and the novel didn’t grip me the way I’d hoped.
The urban fantasy aspect is fun, and I love the idea that protagonist Briseis has plant magic she’s trying to hide in the heart of Brooklyn. Things get a bit more fantasy traditional when she takes her magic to a mysterious estate in upstate New York, but there’s still the cool feel that Bri is practicing magic in our real world, and her talents are rare if not necessarily unique.
I like Bri as the protagonist. She’s clever and persevering and seems to be a good friend. She’s not perfect, and she knows it, but she works on her strengths while acknowledging she’s not good at everything. However, I do think the book suffers from trying to make her (and the other characters) model “correct behavior” — which I think is a trend in YA in general and not something particular to this book. That is, the characters always talk out their feelings, always say the “right” thing, admit when they’re wrong, etc. Sometimes they do this in ways that seem as if they’re using a script someone would come up with for use in the “ideal” conversation, instead of saying things I imagine real people would ever say. I know a lot of readers actually like this, and I’ve seen books particularly praised for it, but it’s not my thing, and it’s one minor reason among many that I ultimately didn’t love the book.
Mostly I found the pacing off. The beginning is a little slow, but that’s not an issue for me. I’m fine with immersing myself in world building and learning things about the book. The main issues are that 1) so many hints are dropped about things that happen later in the story that none of them are really that surprising as reveals and 2) the pace moves from slow to rocket ship fast in the final chapters of the book, and I nearly found myself laughing at all the wild things that happened one after another. Bri’s relationships with new characters also progress strangely quickly. If the pace had been more even throughout the story, I would have liked it better.
This Poison Heart is fine. I understand why a lot of other readers love it. It’s not for me, though, and I have no plans to read the sequel.