Book: A Fierce and Subtle Poison
Author: Samantha Mabry
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date: April 12, 2016
Genre: YA Mystery/Thriller

I received this book from Algonquin Young Readers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

My rating: 4 stars out of 5

Synopsis: In this stunning debut, legends collide with reality when a boy is swept into the magical, dangerous world of a girl filled with poison.

Everyone knows the legends about the cursed girl–Isabel, the one the senoras 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.

A Fierce and Subtle Poison beautifully blends magical realism with a page-turning mystery and a dark,  starcrossed romance–all delivered in lush, urgent prose. (Cover image and synopsis from Goodreads.)

This book is beautiful. The writing is lovely. I was drawn in to Mabry’s smooth, simmering prose.

I didn’t like Lucas in the beginning. He seemed to be exactly what he complained people saw him as, the lazy rich kid who hooks up with girls. But as the narrator of the book, he started to reveal his feelings, his memories and his dreams.  I started to recognize what he was actually thinking and yearning for, and I began to really like him. It was refreshing to read a male narrator again. So much of the YA I have recently read has been female driven.

The Story

The story isn’t as fantastical as I expected. I thought it would be more intense with a cursed girl, and a normal boy fighting for his life. Rather, it was about a cursed girl and a normal boy trying to save a different kidnapped girl.

But the magical realism was also refreshing, in a way. It was subtle as the title suggests. The mystery simmered below the surface. What is real? What is true? These questions constantly barrelled around my brain.

At times it was slow going, but there was always something there, just enough to keep pulling me on wanting to know more.

The Setting

The setting is interesting and detailed. Mabry does a wonderful job of placing the reader in San Juan. Although some of the Puerto Rican characters seem like caricatures, her descriptions of the island are lush and full of texture. The weather, the heat, the rain, the wind, the ocean, the plant life, the mosquitos, the language. I felt like I was there.

The Theme

A Fierce and Subtle Poison explores family, dreams, depression, loss and abandonment, sacrifice, hero-complex and more. Like I said above, it is layered. I liked the exploration of abandonment, dreams, and the mystery and power of story.

One thing that frustrated me, however, is how, once again, as is so often the case in MG and YA, the parents were villains. There were very few redeeming qualities in any of the parental characters. Why is this?

Overall, I quite liked it.

Does A Fierce and Subtle Poison sound like a book you’d enjoy?

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