(I thank Netgalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for sending me the ARC in exchange for my honest review)
I’m clearly of two minds about this book. I really liked some aspects of the story, and the writing was passionate and thorough. But on the other hand there were some grating details, which annoyed me especially because I wasn’t always entertained by the story.
The beginning was enjoyable. I liked that the three main characters were young, united by friendship and family ties, without any impeding romance. I also appreciated that they were kind and thoughtful, ready to be adults facing their responsibilities. I loved the author’s choice to put forward characters disadvantaged by chronic illness, or neurological difference associated with anxiety and OCD. The society exposed, peaceful and industrious, with a feminine filiation and a family unit where the father is replaced by a male relative of the mother, was interesting and well depicted. The characters different colourings, and various sexual inclinations were delicately indicated without taxing insistence.
But if the introduction was easy to read and promising, I struggled during all the middle of the book. This part was all about a specific situation, which was well rendered I suppose, the atmosphere was good to be honest – but I was bored. I even skimmed though some parts. I usually don’t mind long and precise narrations, I even frequently favour them, but this time I wasn’t charmed, and for this reason the flaws (or what I perceived as such) became more and more noticeable.
I have some grievances about this book; in fact I probably wouldn’t have mind so much about them if I’ve had loved the whole story, but I didn’t, so here we are:
The secondary characters were introduced too quickly in the beginning and I couldn’t track of all them afterwards, as long the book was (but I have to admit that my immediate memory isn’t that good…)
Why on earth (or any other world of your choice) is there not any healer guild ? There are hospitals, and healers, who seems to be important persons, but no healer guild. So weird.
The city is described as peaceful, centered on arts, crafworks and intellectual pursuits. No weapon is accepted within the city and the atmosphere is mundane, with small politic intrigues, but no brutal animosities. Especially, poisoning one’s rivals or opponents doesn’t seem to be the custom. Still the Heir is guarded nearly all around the clock by a master of poison, disguised as their personnel advisor. This situation is necessary for the intrigue, but I couldn’t help finding it unatural and unbelievable.
The double narration : each chapter of the story is alternatively told by the master of poisons and her sister, using the first person. Unfortunately I could never know who was speaking before encountering a helpful hint: the voices sounded exactly identical to me, which is a shame as the two characters have distinctive and endearing personalities. In my opinion choosing the first person for the narration was an error, the third one, even with an alternative point of view, would have been more subtle and effective. And it would have made another (maybe subjective) problem less annoying: there were frequently some over explanations of psychological evolutions, when the show don’t tell was good and should have been enough.
For my satisfaction the final part was as good as the start, with some nice revelations and character development!
To conclude I’ll like to point out that the magic part, if central, is nearly inexistant in this first book of The Poison Wars series. I actually don’t mind at all, but it could be a deception for some readers. For all its action the atmosphere was rather sedate, and if it was a good point for me, I’m not sure that it’ll meet some readers expectations after reading the publisher’s presentation.