Wednesday, July 28, 2010

the poison dairies is a sweetly, twisted story about obsession and love

The Poison Dairies is an odd little book on first look – it's published by HarperCollins' Children's Books imprint oddly enough considering both the sexual content, the poisoning and the betrayal at the centre of the story.
Set in England somewhere between the Reformation and the Restoration, The Poison Dairies tracks the life of Jessamine, the only child of a country doctor whose speciality seems to be healing through the use of plants.
The book opens with Jessamine carefully preparing the berries of the Belladonna plant, one of the most virulent poisons of their times.
The descriptions of the glossy, black berries and the fascination Jessamine has with them, her proprietorial air perfectly conveys the Gothic nature of this book.
Even the authoring – "by Maryrose Wood, based on a concept by The Duchess of Northumberland" – harks back to times past, of 18th century lady authors and overblown Gothic romances.
But The Poison Diaries is much more substantial that those tomes; there is a sharp clarity of phrase in Wood's prose and the dark, mythical characters of Weed – a foundling – and Oleander – the dark prince – seems informed by the stories of the Duke of Northumberland's historical family seat, Alnwick Castle, which broods over Jessamine's life.
It's not entirely clear who, or what, Weed is. Nor does one learn why Oleander chooses to speak to Jessamine. The magical nature of both men is never clearly defined, nor, in fact, fully proved.
But the sense of mystery and unease add an edge to what could have been an ordinary story.
This is a romance, yes, with Jessamine falling for Weed, but it is also, almost, a murder mystery. The Poison Dairies is a sweetly, twisted story about obsession and love – both romantic and familial.
Like a number of books I've recently read and reviewed – White Cat by Holly Black in particular – betrayal in the heart of one's home; the bosom of the family, also resonates in The Poison Dairies denouement.

The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood, based on a concept by The Duchess of Northumberland, is published by HarperCollins and is available from good books stores and online.


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