Poison starts out in the middle of things, with our protagonist, sixteen year old Kyra, on the run because she tried to assassinate the princess. Kyra needs to finish the job of killing the princess because this will somehow save the kingdom, but of course she’s now public enemy #1. Luckily she’s a master potioner who has crafted disguise potions and is well-armed with weapons tinged with a sleeping potion. She ends up traveling in the company of a small pig, a cute boy, and his wolf dog—but as a would-be assassin on the run, friendship is something she can’t afford.
As readers, we’re given bits of information as the story goes on, but it’s very much in bits and pieces. To some extent this is fine, but sometimes it got to the point where I felt like the author—rather than our narrator and the needs of the story—was keeping things from us. It’s a fine line to walk to keep secrets about your main character when the book is from her point of view, and by the time everything started to fall together, it felt to me like that line got crossed. Some readers will be fine with this, but some may find it very annoying.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Lots of people get knocked out repeatedly by poisoned weapons. The main plot is Kyra trying to kill Ari, the princess (and her best friend). It’s made clear that Kyra never misses, so it’s implied that she’s killed before—probably frequently. But by the end of the book, I wasn’t at all sure that was the case. People are certainly trying to kill Kyra, though, which isn’t surprising since she tried to kill the princess.
Ari, the princess, is Kyra’s best friend. But when Ari starts acting really strangely and Kyra has visions of Ari’s wedding bringing the destruction of the kingdom, Kyra decides she needs to kill her best friend. Eventually we learn that Kyra thought Ari was possessed, and as Ari herself states, there’s no cure for that. So I think that justifies it? At any rate, Ari doesn’t hold the attempted murder against Kyra.
The crime lord has the head of a former enemy in his hoard. He’s definitely a dangerous guy, and when Kyra reaches out to him you know she’s desperate—the opening chapters of the book are pretty dark.
A witch captures Kyra and Fred and intends to enslave them. When that plan falls through, she plans to eat them.
Sex, Romance, Nudity, Marriage, Etc.
When Kyra first meets Fred, she’s crossing a river wearing only a frilly undergarment (long story, but there is at least some explanation of how this comes about). It’s white. And gets wet. And he has to come rescue her. And carries her wet nearly-naked body out of the river—it’s made clear that the soaked shift leaves very little to the imagination.
Kyra frequently mentions how beautiful Fred is, how gorgeous his eyes are, etc. Despite everything that’s going on in her life right now, Fred is quite the distraction. They kiss, and it threatens to become more, but it never does. Kyra is very jealous of Fred and Ari, when they meet and get along well.
Ari was turned into a wooden store mannequin (don’t ask) and when the spell is broken it’s repeatedly pointed out that she’s naked and has been for quite a while (she was in a pile with other discarded mannequins in the back of the shop).
Kyra is sixteen years old. She’s already been in love, gotten engaged, broken up with him, and fallen in love with someone else. Marriage is viewed as a totally reasonable choice for teenagers.
Ari, on the other hand, isn’t ready for marriage at all, although her parents have arranged one for her. She’s desperate to escape it.
Kyra tells Fred some incredibly filthy jokes, which aren’t actually included in the text.
Ari’s mom was totally overprotective, to the point where she was smothering Ari. When Ari is replaced by some other creature, Kyra knows something is wrong. Ari’s mom, however, notices nothing. She hardly knows her daughter at all.
Kyra and her mom are on pretty competitive terms. Fred is a younger son and also rebels against his family. Basically, they’re all teenagers rebelling against the parents who don’t understand them.
Sneaking and Thieving
When we first meet Kyra, she’s broken into someplace to steal something. She frequently gets things by less-than-honest means, although she is on the run so she often can’t get them legally. Ari and Kyra used to sneak out of the castle and go on adventures when they were supposed to be reading or doing embroidery or something. They’re not malicious kids, but they’re also not overly bound by rules, and the book sees that as a good thing.
Coming to Terms with Who You Are
Kyra has a part of her she doesn’t want to admit or embrace. In the end, though, to save everyone, she has to. Her fears that Ari wouldn’t accept her are unfounded.
Happily Ever After
EVERYTHING falls into place in the end. Like, everything. The end of the book seems to have little in common with the desperate pace set at the beginning. It was almost a light-hearted buddy comedy by the end. Which my daughter might adore, but I felt like things got shoe-horned in and secrets were clumsily kept from the reader in the name of this very neatly tied up ending. I’d have liked more of the complexity promised by the beginning of the book.
With the sixteen year old protagonist and her love life, this feels more adult than I expected—or at least for other reasons than I expected. It feels like an odd mix of middle grade and YA, and in some ways it feels like Kyra and Ari ought to be at least two years older (to me, at least, the nudity would feel a little less out of place if they were at least 18). I’d recommend it for readers maybe 12 and up who enjoy romantic fantasy adventures. It may be a good choice for teen readers looking for a book that isn’t too dark or difficult to read.
This book is the October 2015 Patreon choice.
Poison by Bridget Zinn
Published in 2013 by Hyperion Books for Children
Read my personal copy