Friday, 10 August 2012

Poison - Book Review

Poison, by Chris Wooding, is the story of a sixteen year old girl called Poison whose sister is stolen by phaeries. Poison, unwilling to accept her sister’s disappearance or the changeling left in her place, sets out to find the Phaerie Lord and demand her sister’s return. Poison soon finds herself pitted against weird and terrifying fairytale creatures. When she faces the mysterious figure of the Hierophant, the most powerful of the Lords, she finds herself in a fight to control her own fate, as well as the future of all humanity.

First, this book should probably come with some kind of ‘Serious Meta-Fiction Lies Within’ warning label. The meta-fiction itself is actually handled very well, much better than in Sophie’s World, which equal parts bored and irritated me, but not quite as successfully as The Neverending Story, and perhaps a little too heavy-handed at times. Still, despite being quite good meta-fiction, it does come at you a bit unexpectedly and changes the tone of the book very suddenly. So you’re enjoying this pretty dark story of messed up fairytales and creepy-ass scarecrows, and spiders (oh god, the spiders!), and it’s all fast-paced tension and horror, and then you casually turn round and woah! who knocked down our fourth wall? I mean, it was there a minute ago. It was a rather nice one, all mahogany panelled and hung with portraits of fairytale characters with the eyes cut out. And now it’s just gone, a great, gaping, shrieking void where it used to be.

Good stuff... just, a little jarring. Having said that, this really is a fantastic story – gripping, deliciously black, and surprisingly original for a book about fairytales. Don’t be fooled by the presence of phaeries into thinking it’s a paranormal romance. This book takes fairytales and uses everything that’s a little bit macabre, all the sinister characters and terrifying monsters, and adds another sprinkling of scary, then wraps it all up in something very dark and clever. It’s fairytales-as-horror, and from the moment that scarecrow appears, it doesn’t disappoint. Interestingly, seen in this light, the meta-fiction aspect is actually just another element of the horror. Once Poison has had to face all the menacing creatures the Hierophant can throw at her, she is then presented with the most horrifying idea yet: the fear that she is not real, that nothing is real, that everything – her struggles, her whole life – has been ultimately pointless. And, most frightening for a girl like Poison, that she has no free will after all. This is where the author takes meta-fiction and does something a little different with it; rather than a lofty philosophical idea or a comment on what stories mean to us, it is turned into something deeply disturbing and scary.

The characters in the book are well-written; Poison’s companions are likeable and their different personalities offset hers nicely, but at the same time they have an odd sense of being slightly two-dimensional, as if they only exist to complement Poison and to serve her story – which, of course, they do. Poison herself is incredibly strong willed, sympathetic and brave, while at the same time having understandable and relatable faults. She’s probably one of the best written YA heroines I’ve read in a while. And, unusually for a YA book these days, there is absolutely no romance at all. Not even a hint of one. Which, while I like romance, is really quite refreshing.

I was surprised by this story; I had expected something perhaps more generic, but found originality and depth. It’s exciting, scary and dark, and it had me genuinely gripped until the end. It’s also very fast paced, and a quick and easy read. Very much recommended.

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