A dark, gothic tale of romance... and murder. In the right dose, everything is a poison. Jessamine has spent her whole life in a cottage close to her father's apothecary garden, surrounded by medicinal plants and herbs that could kill her -- although her father has never allowed her into the most dangerous part of the grounds... the poison garden. And so she's never had reason to be afraid -- until now. Because now a newcomer has come to live with the family, a quiet but strangely attractive orphan boy named Weed. Though Weed doesn't say much in words, he has an instant talent for the apothecary's trade, seeming to possess a close bond with the plants of the garden. Soon, he and Jessamine also share a close bond. But little does Jessamine know that passion can be just as poisonous as the deadliest plants in the garden -- for behind Weed's instinctive way in the garden is a terrible secret.
I hate having to do this, because I feel as though my reviews should be taken as honest and considered (and I'm sure that most, if not all, of my readers understand that I would not artificially review a novel), but I need to add a disclaimer to this review. I have just spent the last two days enjoying the hospitality of the Duchess of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle, thanks to the release of the second Poison Diaries novel. So, if you wish to, you can consider that you should take this review with a degree of cynicism. However, I do believe that I've been as honest as possible about a book I genuinely liked.
The Poison Diaries is, at its heart, a celebration of doomed lovers in the vein of Romeo and Juliet. It is an exploration of the ambiguity in plants that can either kill or cure, depending on thier use. It has echoes of dark tales of the sidhe - trickster fae, who demand payment for their aid.
As well as that, it is an enjoyable, albeit dark, read. In fact, I would say it is easily the darkest YA novel I've read up until now - maybe not the first part of the novel, but certainly the denouement. Wood takes this novel to places that you would never expect and it is all the more surprising and interesting for it.
In Jessamine and Weed, we have a pair of lovers who show the same attraction for each other that we've seen in other celebrated YA protagonists, such as Bella and Edward - and consequently The Poison Diaries shares the same faults as those books. The romance is very sweet and yearning, but not entirely believable. Jessamine falls in love with this boy virtually as she first meets him - a foundling orphan boy who is said to be a monster. She accepts his secret with grace and no incredulity, which I think she should have shown to allow more believability. Like I say, very sweet, but not a romance you can really suspend disbelief over.
The Poison Diaries also encompasses another fault that is more of a personal issue than something that other readers would suffer - I don't like the name of the female protagonist! Jessamine just seems so unnecessarily fancy! I would have enjoyed the novel far more with a girl that had a more common name, but I do accept that I might be alone in this.
The part of the novel I found most gripping was the deadly ending - the three tasks that Weed is set has overtones of old folktales and fairytales, where agreements are made with the sidhe that have to be specified exactly otherwise those tricksy personages will twist the words in the manner that they so wish. I also loved the concept and discussion of what constitutes strength and weakness; and whether healers really should heal *everyone*.
Overall, The Poison Diaries is a great way to spend a few hours. It is a slight book with surprising depth at the end, although I would want to see more development of Jessamine's character in future novels. It is a quick read with little challenge to the prose, which is smooth and readable. There are faults, but these did not detract entirely from the rest of the novel and did not lessen the impact of the last third. Definitely has promise for future books in this series, and I would be very willing to read more.