Poison Diaries coverThe Poison Diaries trilogy, Book 1

Jessamine lives alone with her apothocary father in the remains of a monastery, tending their herb and vegetable gardens and keeping house while her father travels the county dosing people with his herbal remedies, searching for any books of horticulture that may have survived the burning of the monasteries, and caring for the locked garden Jessamine is forbidden to enter. Then a raggedy boy known only as Weed is brought to his father, a boy with a mysteriously close relationship with all varieties of plants, a boy suspected of putting something in the tea at a madhouse that made all the inmate sane, and something else in the town well that made the inhabitants crazy.

It’s all rather fascinatingly unhealthy—Jessamine, her relationship with her father, her relationship with Weed. She’s been alone, or alone save a man who looks down on her, for far too long; her first-person narration overflows with eloquent loneliness and desperation for human contact, and her initial reaction to Weed is predicated on her understandable need for a friend. Their romance, though it reeks of inevitability, is interesting; in addition to Jessamine’s issues, Weed is emotionally scarred and is even less accustomed to social interaction, having never really learned to bond with people. They cling to each other, both outsiders unused to being understood.

And then it trades its understated, complex psychology for an overstated, hallucinogenic quest and an abrupt ending.

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The Poison Diaries ~ Maryrose Wood (which has got to be the greatest name for an author of a plant-related book ever).

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Wings Aprilynne PikeAdopted daughter of hippies, super-vegan (anything but fruits and vegetables make her sick), homeschooled for years, looks like a supermodel Laurel is starting at public high school in a new town. It’s not as bad as she expected; though she hates being inside all day and finds it odd to learn at someone else’s pace, she quickly makes friends- even a romantic prospect. Then a strange bump begins to grow on her back, eventually growing into a flower – loosely resembling a pair of wings.¹ A hot young man she meets on a visit back to her family’s old property tells her that she, like he, is a faerie; and science geek romantic prospect helps her figure out what that means.

The characters and, actually, the science are well done. Laurel’s confusion and fear are palpable but not overblown, as is her tentative reaction to possible romance, from more than one direction. David, the science geek, is perhaps unusually mature for a sixteen year old, but he’s so sweet and supportive and earnest that it’s hard not to like him. Tamani, the faerie, is also well-drawn, with his debonair manner only partially covering his doubts and insecurities. The writing is quite strong, with pacing that’s even while still maintaining tension and danger. It doesn’t forget that strange, worrisome things wreak havoc with our everyday lives and schoolwork, or that the start of a romance, especially a first romance, is scary and confusing – and can be made all the more so by strange, worrisome things.

Of course, I also have issues. When do I not?

The focus on Laurel in our world means we don’t get much about faerie culture or society; I wish we got more, so I could decide how strongly I object. The little bit we get makes me nervous:

“Winter faeries are the most powerful of all faeries, and the most rare. Only two or three are produced in an entire generation, often less. Our rulers are always Winter faeries.”²

Tamani hesitated. “I’m just a Spring faerie.”
“Why ‘just’?”
Tamani shrugged. “Spring faeries are the least powerful of all the faeries. That’s why I’m a sentry. Manual labor. I don’t need much magic for that.”³

Either it hints of discrimination, or I’m oversensitive.4 I don’t have a problem with different faeries having different magical abilities, but the implied level to which it determines their role in society and the valuation is less comfortable. I’m also not against showing prejudice and discrimination in books; I just want it acknowledged, dammit.

And then there’s the dramatic conflict. There are trolls! They want to mess up everything for the faeries! They are mean, ugly, and stupid because of evolution, and the faeries are beautiful and intelligent because of evolution. Congratulations, you just fell into the all-too-common sci-fi/fantasy “orcs are bad! elves are good!” trope. This trope has race/racism issues, especially when there’s such blatant blanket statements of physical attractiveness; it’s also just a really boring excuse for a conflict.

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¹It really is a flower, not wings; in this mythology, faeries can’t fly. Which, of course, begs the question: if there are no wings involved, why is the title Wings?
²P. 147.
³Pp. 148-9.
4Or both!

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Wings ~ Aprilynne Pike

I, CorianderFor her first nine years, Coriander Hobie lived a charmed life: daughter of a wealthy merchant father and an herbalist mother, known for her medicinal potions. There are a few oddnesses to her life—the fairy stories her parents tell, the efficacy of her mother’s potions, a mysterious pair of silver shoes—but Coriander’s hardly notices until her life begins to unravel. Then, of course, she begins to realize both the dangers of this world and the existence of another.

Set against the backdrop of Oliver Cromwell‘s Puritan rule of London, I, Coriander is in many ways as charming as Coriander’s life. The writing is smooth and fits the story, and everything Coriander experiences in London is vividly described. Experiences and characters in the fairy world are disappointing poorly developed, particularly in comparison to the London scenes.

I also, once I stopped to think about it, was unexpectedly disturbed by such a smooth, gentle book.

If you’re very spoiler-averse, you can stop reading here. I don’t think you need to, though; the fairy tale nature gives the story a sense of inevitability, so I don’t think anything I’m about to tell you will spoil the story. Whether or not it will ruin the book is a different matter entirely.

Time moves differently in fairy as in our world, of course. Coriander’s time there is measured in hours or, at most, days; while those hours or days elapse, she misses months and years in ours, though when she returns her body has aged appropriately. So we have a girl who only has memories and experiences taking her through the age of twelve in a fifteen-year-old’s body, and then a six-months-older-than-that girl in a seventeen-year-old’s body. As far as the book is concerned, this causes absolutely no issues: no freakouts about going from an early-pubescent body to a post-pubescent body, no freakouts about sudden menstruation, and no acting like she’s still twelve. We’re to believe that she is the age she appears and ready for a mature (if terribly developed, narrative-wise) romantic relationship. I’ll grant you that she can have the hormones and brain development of an older girl/young woman—magic, after all— but I can’t completely discount the role experience plays in the process of growing up.

Coriander’s written in a very ageless style—she’s the same at six as she is at twelve, or at the end of the book—but even then, I can’t believe that she’s an adult, even a young one. She’s a twelve- or thirteen-year-old who happens to look like an adult. And when romance gets involved, that gets even creepier.

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I, Coriander (Google Books) ~ I, Coriander (Wikipedia)

This might have been a perfect book, if the author hadn’t been struck by Profundity Syndrome (more on this later). As it is, it’s a damn good book. Aslaug has spent her first fifteen years living alone with her mother in a house with no electricity or hot water – or mirrors. They almost never go anywhere except to forage for plants, which they use for food and medicine. Aslaug’s mother won’t tell her who her father is.

Madapple moves quickly from Aslaug’s mysterious childhood to issues of religion, control, family, love, and herbology – lots of herbology. Really cool herbology, complete with etymology of plant names and uses in folk medicine and magic. Told in alternating chapters of first-person narrative and court transcripts from Aslaug’s murder trial, it keeps the reader from being entirely sure what’s going on, and that’s a wonderful thing. The revelations develop organically, and it all falls into place with an amazing, well-timed precision.

Oh, and it revolves around virgin birth.

So why is it not perfect? Because after 400 pages of awesome, the 401st turns into a lecture on why what we just read is profound and what we should have gotten out of it. I hate it when authors do that. If you did your job right, you don’t need to give us the lecture. And if you didn’t do your job right, we’re not going to appreciate it no matter what.

Still, a trite final page isn’t nearly enough to make this anything less than an amazing book.