Book Review: This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

Ever since she can remember, Briseis has had power over plants. Flowers bloom in her footsteps and leaves turn to face her as though she were the sun. It’s a power she and her adoptive mothers have spent her whole life trying to hide. And then Briseis inherits an old house from her birth mother and suddenly finds herself with the space and privacy to test her powers for the first time.

But as Briseis starts to bring the house’s rambling garden back to life, she finds she has also inherited generations of secrets. A hidden altar to a dark goddess, a lineage of witches stretching back to ancient times, and a hidden garden overgrown with the most deadly poisonous plants on earth. And Briseis’s long-departed ancestors aren’t going to let her rest until she accepts her place as the keeper of the terrible power that lies at the heart of the Poison Garden.

Cinderella Is Dead author Kalynn Bayron brings a message of proud inclusivity to this empowering fantasy about a young woman finding the strength to challenge everything she has been told is true. 

I don’t remember when but I think I bought this one a few months ago. I had read the author’s debut Cinderella is Dead and thought it was solid, but I guess I just never got around to this one. I very rarely do this but I went into this not knowing much except plant magic and poisons and I think that was a great decision on my part.

I’m not much of a fan of contemporary books these days, even if they are in my beloved SFF genres. Maybe I wouldn’t have picked this up if I realized it before. But once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. The author’s writing hooks you in right at the get go, first with the gorgeous descriptions of flowers and then with the heroine’s magic in general. I have to confess, I’m not much of a nature lover and have no interest in gardening but the way the author describes the main character’s relationship with plants, how the magic works, and both the little sweet and tense moments with the poisonous vines – it’s all very stunning and made me appreciate this kind of magic for the first time.

We also have a house (or an estate) which is a character in itself, revealing its truths slowly and giving very gothic vibes; and how can I forget the Beauty and the Beast style library. I could almost imagine the musty old books, all the gorgeous plant art in one of them and just the feeling of being in such a place. And if that’s not all, the author unravels one secret after another that we can’t put the book down, takes us down memory lane across hundreds of generations, and throws some mythology and alchemy and nature medicine for good measure and we have a very captivating story in our hands.

Briseis is a compelling character to follow. She has this power which she doesn’t completely understand but which she feels called towards, but it has also led to a fearful and lonely existence. So, when she gets a chance at a life where she would be able to let go and understand what all she is able to do, she is finally relieved. She does get frustrated sometimes because she always feels like she is a step behind and there are many secrets she needs to find out, she is diligent in her care for her plants (poisonous and otherwise) and also in finding out more about her birth family’s history and legacy. I could say more but I don’t wanna spoil at all, but the unveiling of this legacy and all the history behind it is one of my favorite parts of the novel.

She is ably supported by her two adoptive mothers who may be scared for her, very protective, and also not leave any chance of embarrassing her in front of her friends, but they are also extremely understanding of the situation she is in and try to make her feel as loved as possible. We also meet a whole host of eccentric characters in the small town of Rhinebeck and I had a very interesting time figuring out the good and the bad guys among them, but I truly couldn’t guess everything. It always feels nice to be surprised.

When I started reading this, I didn’t think I will fall in love with this story and writing so much. But it’s very enchanting that pulls you in with its gorgeous prose, very empathetic characters and a plot that takes very unexpected and thrilling turns. And the way it ends, I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel because I badly wanna know what happens next.

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