The Plot: Kyra, sixteen, is not your typical hero. She is breaking into the home of the Master Trio of Potioners to steal a very specific, very deadly poison. So, thief and killer?
Kyra is — was — one of the Master Trio, one of the best potioners in the kingdom. Until the day she tried, and failed, to kill Princess Ariana, heir to the throne and Kyra’s best friend.
Why did Kyra throw her life away? Why is she trying to kill her best friend? Kyra has knowledge that if the princess lives, the kingdom will be destroyed. What is worse: one death, or the death of everyone and everything? Kyra races against time to try to find Ari and this time, succeed in killing her and ending the threat.
How to find a hidden princess when the entire country is hunting you?
First, get a pig.
The Good: Poison is a delightful, inventive, clever fantasy.
Kyra is smart and a master potioner. Her world is one with magic, but potions is not magic. Being good at it, like she is, is a combination of talent and work and schooling. It’s scientific, like chemistry. Kyra is rather dismissive of the magical elements of her world, seeing it as not quite as good as her potions.
See that right there? This bias reveals Kyra’s own prejudices and arrogance. Flaws help make a character whole, but what is extra terrific is that these flaws are also important to the narrative. They impact the decisions she makes and the consequences of those decisions. Delicious! Here’s an example without giving anything big away: the pig. Kyra needs a way to find Ari, and she gets — a pig. And doesn’t quite believe that a pig can track someone. The way that she interacts with the pig, who eventually acquires a name, Rosie, is revealing and important and matters to the plot and I loved it.
Poison has plot twists and one reason I adored the twists is that I wasn’t expecting them — oh, some things I figured out but others left me surprised. When I reread Poison not only where hints there, it explained things that before seemed to just be coincidences. I loved this.
Kyra reveals what she has to when she has to and even then, only tells you what she wants you to know or what she thinks you need to know. In the first chapter, we find out she’s breaking into the home of the Master Trio; she doesn’t share right away that she was one of the Trio. Or that she was engaged to one of the other potioners. Those quick plot twists in the first chapter are just a tease of some of what happens later.
Kyra has a pig to track the princess down, and while on her hunt she runs into Fred. Fred! He’s cute and charming and nice and of course, Kyra lies to him about who she is and what she is doing. Her lies? Her name is Kitty and she is a dairy maid delivering the pig to her sis, er, cousin …. yes. Kyra’s not so great with making stuff up, but Fred believes it. Plus Fred has a pet dog named Langley.
Poison is a great adventure, smart with a touch of humor. At one point, Kyra thinks that “she didn’t like children at the best of times, and now was certainly nowhere near the best of times.” As for adventure, she encounters criminals and goblins and witches as she tries to find Ari, and the reader gradually learns more about why Kyra is so convinced her best friend and princess has to die that she abandons her business partners, friends, and fiance in pursuit of killing Ari.
Poison is also modern while being a classic fantasy. On the surface, you have a princess and a kingdom and magic, with it all seeming like a typical quasi-medieval fantasy. Except, the tone that Kyra and others use is modern rather than pretend-medieval. Someone calls a parent “Mom,” for instance. Professions don’t seem to be coded as men or women only; Kyra is a potioner and lives with her two business partners, both young men. The royal line is through the female. Kyra saves Fred with both her potions and her fighting skills.
Because Kyra is a terrific character. Because Poison was even better the second time I read it. Because of the adventure and humor. Poison is a Favorite Book Read in 2013.
Bridget Zinn, the author of Poison, passed away in 2011. As shown in some of the links, below, the children’s literature community has come together to do what Zinn herself cannot: promote this wonderful book.