Disclosure: I was given a free advanced Kindle version of this book via NetGalley in return for a review.
When I first saw that Kalynn Bayron had another book coming out, I couldn’t wait to read it. Earlier this year I had enjoyed reading her debut novel Cinderella is Dead and knew I wanted to read more from this author. In fact I didn’t even read the blurb before I requested an advanced copy on NetGalley, and was ridiculously excited when my request was approved. And I’m so glad it was, because honestly this book drew me in from the very first page and I couldn’t put it down. It was even better than I could have imagined, and I cannot wait to share it with you.
What is This Poison Heart about?
This Poison Heart is a fascinating YA fantasy that mixes modern life with ancient mythology so beautifully, drawing you into a world of mystery and leaving you constantly guessing what will happen next. It is told from Briseis’ point of view, who is a black teenage girl living in Brooklyn with her two adoptive mothers who she calls Mom and Mo. They own a flower shop in the city, and this is where we first meet them. However Briseis has a secret that only she and her mothers know – she can bring plants back to life and make new shoots and blooms grow out of a single bit of plant matter.
Very quickly things are turned on their head. Briseis finds out that the sister of her birth mother has left her a house and land in her will. So the family packs up and travels to a town called Rhinebeck and discovers a house with so many hidden secrets it feels as if Briseis will never discover the truth about herself and her ancestors. It’s like every time she uncovers a new part of the puzzle, several more questions arise. Nothing is quite as it seems.
The title of the book comes from her discovery of a poison garden that only she can safely access. Because Briseis is seemingly immune to even the most deadly of poisons. She keeps the garden hidden from all but two new friends she makes in Rhinebeck, even her mothers don’t know about this. Because she feels she has to share it with someone, but she is scared that her parents will make them return to the city if they think it is too unsafe for them to stay there. And they have every right to worry, because unexpected things keep happening – strangers on the doorstep, tires being slashed, an attack in the town…
But Briseis desperately needs to stay to find out what her ancestors were up to. What is their seeming connection to a lady called Medea, who was devoted to the Goddess Hecate? Why did they have this immunity to poisons and ability with plants? Why does everybody in this town seem to know about her birth mother and aunt? And what is everybody hiding?
This Poison Heart is an incredibly gripping story, that twists and turns throughout the pages. We find out little snippets of information as Briseis does and feel her frustration when nobody seems able to give a straight answer. And just when you think you’re starting to get a grip on things everything is turned upside down in the most brutal of ways. Be warned, this book ends on a major cliffhanger, and you’re going to be left desperately hoping the sequel is announced soon!
What I loved about This Poison Heart
There is so much I loved about this book, I’m not even sure where to begin.
First of all, Briseis has a magical power connected to plants. This speaks to my little Pagan heart so much. What more could this nature enthusiast want but a story about a girl with the power to grow plants from practically nothing? And like all good fantasy tales that include magic of some sort, Briseis’ magic comes with lots of practical limitations. She has had to hide it all her life. And even when it seems safer to practice more openly, she still doesn’t understand exactly what is happening nor why. And what happens when that very magical power you possess puts yourself and your loved ones at risk?
Secondly, I loved the different relationships that are explored within this book. You’ve got the family dynamic between Briseis and her parents. They love each other dearly, and all have very unique and powerful voices. Mom and Mo approach parenting in different ways, and complement each other like the best of relationships do. And the way that they unabashedly embarrass Briseis in front of her new friend, Karter, is too amusing as a reader looking in. As for Karter, well I can’t say too much without giving away spoilers but his friendship with Briseis is something she has never quite experienced before.
Then there are the more mysterious characters, like Marie. From the first time we meet her we know something is up. But what is it? We’re kept guessing for quite some time, and when we finally start to find out we can feel the mixture of fear and intrigue that Briseis feels too. In this book there is a common theme of who to trust and whether that trust is well placed – be prepared for some major hurt near the end!
Finally there is the weaving of ancient mythology with modern day life. Briseis’ exploration of the ancient myths which lead her to a greater understanding of her own ancestry is fascinating, and makes me want to read these myths myself. Who doesn’t love a bit of storytelling that plays upon well-known tales and giving them a new spin? It seems as if Kalynn Bayron is a master at this.
Grab yourself a copy of This Poison Heart
This Poison Heart comes out on 29th June 2021, and you can grab a copy from my favourite independent bookshop Queer Lit. If you’re not in the UK I encourage you to look for an independent bookshop to support where you live.