The Sunday Salon: Poison by Chris Wooding

Decided to do my Sunday Salon post a little differently this week, and actually talk about a book I’ve read recently! So, it’s kind of a review, and kind of a meme, and I hope it works out okay.

235. Poison by Chris Wooding

Publication: Orchard Books (September 1, 2005), Hardback, 288pp / ISBN 0439755700

Genre: Dark Fantasy, Horror, YA/Teen


Read: November 15-21, 2009 (*cough*)

Source: Library


Warning: There’ll be some spoilers in this review. It’s unavoidable, because I want to talk about the things surrounding the spoilers but then I have to mention the spoilers to make those things understandable, and for once I don’t want to be vague about things.

This is also extremely long, for some reason.

Poison is about a girl named, well, Poison, who lives in a marsh and is constantly bored. But then one day, her sister is stolen by faeries (or phaeries, as it’s spelled in the book) and replaced with a changeling. Poison sets off on a quest to get her back, and along the way learns some things that are horrible to her but made me squeal like a toddler high on Pixie Stix. She also makes friends, etc.

(This is what happens when I try to write my own summary, you see.)

Poison starts off like your standard faerie tale, but with little twists. Poison isn’t a princess, or a scrappy young person seeking adventure. She’s not even a hobgoblin or anything like that. But neither is she a normal kid that adventure gets foisted on to. Poison is unhappy with where she is in her life, both physically and metaphysically, but she contents herself with annoying everyone around her with uncomfortable questions and a mean anti-authoritarian streak. Her parents dislike her, the rest of the town can’t stand her, and her only friend is an old man named Fleet, who gives her faerie/phaerie stories she loses herself in.

And then her sister gets stolen, and Poison decides to get her back. She leaves the marsh, fights her way into the phaerie realm, and then Things Happen. She doesn’t get her sister back, at least not in the way she was hoping too, and some unpleasant revelations get, um, revealed. But she turns out all right at the end, and so does most everyone else.

What’s different about Poison is that the protagonist isn’t a standard hero, but neither is she an anti-hero. She doesn’t blindly go along with whatever her adventure throws at her. She questions everything, and when she doesn’t get answers she questions that, too. However, neither does she just sit at home and wait for something to happen to her. When her sister is stolen she immediately goes out to get her back.

I liked Poison. She’s a little hard to like, sometimes, but she’s an admirable heroine. She’s extremely stubborn. She doesn’t like most people but she manages to make at least two new friends (three if you count a magic cat). She doesn’t fight physically but she’s very clever, and she doesn’t balk from killing if it needs to be done. She’s very practical, all things told, and she doesn’t lose her head in tough situations.

The story is somewhat unusual, too. It reminds me a bit of The Book of Lost Things except less scary/depressing, and a bit like Faerie Wars except more scary and less funny. It’s a bit gory, a bit spooky, and it’s got a big faerie tale meta thing stuck right in the middle of it.

See, the biggest difference between traditional faerie tales and Poison is that the people in Poison are all being controlled by a storyteller. This dude called the Hierophant writes stories, which are then played out by people in the Poison world. Poison finds out about this, and she’s understandably shocked. This leads to her asking some big questions: are the people in Poison real people? Or are they just puppets? Do they have free will or is it all just a construct of the Hierophant?

You can see the implications of the Hierophant-God connection, and free will-destiny, and so on. Eventually Poison decides that even if she is just in a story, she can change it because it’s her story, and then the book progresses onwards to the end.

This is actually my only complaint with Poison. It’s a nice, non-standard faerie tale (no sword fights at all, nor dragons, nor knights/princess/comedic relief sidekicks) but the solution is gave to Poison’s dilemma was lacking. She may have been able to control it but she was still a storybook character, and she seemed to have forgotten all that almost immediately after she decided to do something rather than lay around weeping. After the big deal she made about being real/not real, it just seemed thin.

One of my favorite scenes, though, was when the Hierophant complained that he couldn’t remember everything and that’s why there were plot holes in the Poison world. Was that the author talking? Or something else? (It was funny, either way.) And I loved it whenever Poison questioned some standard faerie tale thing and couldn’t get any answers. Like the frog-man who met them after Poison and her friends got into the phaerie realm: Poison asked him who he was and what he was doing there, and he couldn’t answer her except to say that he couldn’t remember. He was always there, or he was put there, or-or-or. The gatekeeper thing is a necessity for every faerie tale, but very rarely do any of them get any screen time like this one does, nor do any of them have their existence questioned. It was quite interesting.

The plot is not very action-packed, but it does have some wonderful horror-filled bits (spiders! a witch who boils off your flesh and eats your bones! a corpse-like lady who crawls on the ceiling! villain who crawls out of the pages of books!). I think it’s worth reading if you want to try a different sort of faerie tale. The weird spelling of faerie is annoying, and there’s no character growth to speak of, and the solution at the end could be seen from miles off, but the meta thing and Poison herself are worth the read (though of course the meta thing could come off as trying to be too clever). I really enjoyed it, though. 😀

Find your own copy @ Amazon or IndieBound

The Sunday Salon bit

The Sunday
Books read (& reviewed) this week:
230. Mercury Falls – Robert Kroese [rating: 4/5]
231. The Magicians – Lev Grossman [rating: 3/5]
232. Montmorency – Eleanor Updike [rating: 2.5/5]
233. Hood (King Raven #1) – Stephen R. Lawhead [rating: 3/5]
234. The Mark of Zorro – Johnston McCulley [rating: 4/5]
235. Poison – Chris Wooding [rating: 3.5/5]

Currently reading:
The Lost City of Z by David Grann.

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