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Poison: What to Do When Your Best Friend Suddenly Becomes Evil
Zinn, Bridget. Poison. (Hyperion: 2013). 276 pages. Fantasy.
Themes: Friendship, Adventure, Making hard choices.
Age Range: 11-16 years
Kyra is a 16 year old Master Potioner in the Kingdom of Mohr, specializing in the use of poisons and poisoned weaponry. All is well in her life, until one day she attempts (and fails) to assassinate her best friend, the Princess Ariana, convinced it is the only thing that can prevent an imminent disaster. Now on the run, she is still committed to completing her task, even if it involves consorting with Arlo Abbaduto, the so-called King of Criminals, with whom she has a mutual grudge. Given a pig which can track anything (including a certain hidden princess), and accompanied by a mysterious traveler named Fred she keeps running into by chance, will Kyra be able to find and kill her former best friend? And is it even the right thing to do?
First the disappointing parts of the book: The Kingdom of Mohr as a setting is your standard fantasy setting, with goblins, witches, wandering gypsies, and the like. Aside from subtle indications of being a matriarchy (royal heirs apparently are determined through the female line, and while the King controls the army the Queen controls domestic affairs) it is indistinguishable from your basic “fantasy kingdom.” Additionally, it is tad distracting to find characters talking like modern teenagers in a pseudo- Renaissance setting.
On a different note, the plot at times feels a little neutered for younger teen readers. While Kyra may be a master of poisons, all she uses them for is to knock people unconscious. The only time people seem to be poisoned in the book is when they’ve been poisoned by accident. For a book about a girl who tries to assassinate a member of the royalty, there is very little violence. While this would make the book accessible to readers of all ages, it also may turn off older teens.
On the positive side, Kyra, Fred, and Ariana are all winning as characters, with a lot of witty banter and well-developed personalities. I particularly like that Ariana is a distinctly tomboyish princess, and Kyra herself is fairly action-oriented. Fred as an easy going and well-humored fellow who enjoys fishing is also a winning character. The plot also whizzes along, and the book is quite a fast and fun read.
All in all, while the book is perhaps somewhat forgettable, it’s still a fun read, and I would encourage anyone looking for a fantasy adventure with a strong female main character to track it down.