After five years away on the King’s business, Wynter Moorehawke and Lorcan, her father, have returned to court. Though they are carpenters of common birth, they also serve their friend, King Jonathan, as Lord and Lady Protector. Wynter is excited to be reunited with her childhood friends Alberon and Razi, the King’s legitimate and illegitimate sons, respectively. They were like brothers to her and she and Lorcan were practically part of the King’s family. But it quickly becomes clear that things have changed dramatically since she’s been gone. King Jonathan has become a tyrant, and with her father’s fading health, Wynter realizes that even her own life could be in danger.
The Poison Throne is a pleasant read due to some immediately engaging characters: Wynter, Lorcan, Razi, Razi’s new friend Christopher, a ghost, and a palace cat. Kate Rudd, who narrated the audio version (Brilliance Audio), did a nice job with each of them. (I’ve noticed that Ms Rudd is especially good with books with young female protagonists.) I liked all of these characters right from the start — there are many tender moments in The Poison Throne and this was definitely the best part of the book.
Except for the opening and closing scenes, all of the plot occurs inside the castle grounds (most inside the castle itself) and involves a lot of political maneuvering, silly court behavior, sneaking around, concern and conversation about what everyone else thinks and does, etc. It’s a lot of emotion and angst (“Oh, Razi!” “Oh, Christopher!” “Oh, Dad!”) and some of the characters’ interactions and decisions are sometimes hard to believe.
The general setting and history are a bit far-fetched, too. For example, we’re told that this kingdom had formerly been stable, prosperous, and happy, with the royal family enjoying favor among the people. King Jonathan was a good and fair man until recently. If so, why is Wynter (as soon as she returns, before she realizes that things have changed) so hung up on perfectly proper courtly behavior? Why does she worry that the court will eat Christopher alive if he makes a social blunder? She’s so concerned that he’ll never be accepted because of his common ancestry — yet she used to be a commoner, too. Plotwise, it’s unclear why King Jonathan has to order his thuggish personal guard to kill people so that he can stop them from going out the guarded castle gate. Since he’s such a tyrant, why doesn’t he just tell the guards at the gate not to let them through? These things (and a few others) may be perfectly explainable — perhaps I missed something — but there were several times that I felt like I only had a loose grasp on why some things were happening or why Wynter, Razi, and Christopher had to take certain drastic and dangerous actions. I just wasn’t convinced about a few important aspects of the plot.
In the end, there is a lot more angst than believable plot in The Poison Throne and it takes a long time to get to what feels like “Scene 2” at the end of the book. However, because the characters are so endearing, it’s pleasant to spend time with them, even when they are just sitting around wondering what’s going on. Because there’s a mystery to solve and it feels like something exciting may actually be starting to happen (we’re leaving the castle!), I have to admit that I’m looking forward to reading on in The Crowded Shadows. If you don’t insist on a quick and tight plot, The Moorehawke Trilogy may turn out to be a fun story. I recommend trying it on audio.