Poison: Clever ideas, and style

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Chris Wooding PoisonPoison by Chris Wooding

The fantasy genre owes Chris Wooding a huge favour. In a genre awash with sad Tolkien knock-offs filled with magic swords, plucky heroes, wise wizards, princesses-in-distress and other tired clichés, Wooding continues to churn out exciting and intriguing stories that contain a rare force of imagination. Even though Poison is not quite as successful as some of his earlier efforts (especially The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray) it certainly deserves credit for its skill, style, fast-pace and clever ideas.

Which is ironic considering I was rather concerned on reading the first chapter. A young girl named Poison lives in the gloomy swamplands of the Black Marshes, together with a woebegone father and a nasty stepmother. An outcast in her own village (she chose her own name, which should give you some idea of her attitude) she dreams of adventures outside her dismal existence. Despite Wooding’s snappy prose and deft hand at forming such a grim atmosphere, I couldn’t believe the predictability of the opening. Yet perhaps the typical fairytale beginning has a purpose…

It so happens that Poison’s baby sister Azalea is kidnapped by the Phaeries, and Poison commits herself to the quest of tracking her down again, seeking out the Phaerie Lord himself to demand her sister be returned to her. Collecting a motley crew along the way, Poison finds her way into the Realm of Phaerie — there are some snags along the way of course, predominantly the horrifying Bone Witch, whose home serves as the gateway between the human and Phaerie worlds. But things get even stranger when she reaches the Realm of Phaerie, filled with rules and quirks (and breathtaking beauty) that baffles even the headstrong Poison. Attempting to negotiate this new world of political intrigue and secret plots, she also has to deal with minor characters who say some rather inexplicable things, like: “you haven’t meet half the cast yet,” and “at least you’re not the typical muscle-bound warrior, beautiful sorceress and amusing thief sidekick.”

Poison doesn’t have a clue what’s going on, but it all seems to have something to do with the mysterious figure known as the Hierophant. It would be wrong of me to discuss anymore of this surprising book, save to say that it gradually gets quite existential and rather reminiscent of The Neverending Story in its use of stories-within-stories and the blurring of the lines between author, reader and character, raising some interesting questions about our relationship with books in the process.

It is a book that demands to be read more than once, much like The Six Sense, one needs to experience it initially, and then retread the story in order to better appreciate the ‘rules and clues’ that were strewn amongst the story. Ultimately, Poison is a book about books themselves — where can a book-lover go wrong with such a premise?

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsPoison — (2003) Young adult. Publisher: Poison has always been a willful, contrary girl, prone to being argumentative and stubborn. So when her sister is snatched by the mean-spirited faeries, she seeks out the Phaerie Lord to get her back. But finding him isn’t easy, and the quest leads Poison into a murderous world of intrigue, danger, and deadly storytelling. With only her wits and her friends to aid her, Poison must survive the attentions of the Phaerie Lord, rescue her sister, and thwart a plot that’s beyond anything she (or the reader) can imagine…

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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