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Review: A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry

Lucas is a seventeen-year-old gringo from Houston, who spends his summers in Puerto Rico with his father, a big-shot developer of beachfront hotels. He has grown up hearing the stories of the old señoras about the mysterious, high-walled house at the end of Calle Sol, where a mad scientist lives with his cursed daughter. According to local lore, the girl has green skin and grass for hair, but perhaps most interesting, she is said to grant wishes from behind her wall of stone and poison plants. Lucas and his friends secretly throw their own wishes over the wall, never admitting to each other that they believe in magic.

Then, one day, Lucas's new girlfriend, Marisol, goes missing and mysterious notes that point to the house on Calle Sol appear in his bedroom. Once he knocks on the iron gate of the cursed house, nothing is ever the same again. The cursed girl is so much more than she is rumored to be, and her scientist father hides a sinister secret. When another girl goes missing and the police accuse him, Lucas must decide between fending for himself -- or placing trust in the girl whose very existence could kill him.

I admit – I was drawn in by the beautiful cover of A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry. With a cover that beautiful and a title that mysterious, how could this book not be good?!

Overall, I did enjoy my time spent reading this story. I loved the author’s description of Puerto Rican lore and legends, which take up the first quarter of the book, and especially how she portrayed the cursed girl’s story. I didn’t struggle to believe that the girl could kill someone just by being near them, or doubt why or how when it was explained. I do wish that more justice had been lent to the magical realism aspect. We’re told that the girl was cursed before she was even born, we’re told about her “condition,” and we have glimpses of what she can do, yet – it doesn’t feel like enough. In fact, the magical realism takes a backseat to what turns out to be more of an unusual mystery plot.

Lucas, our narrator, is charming and brave, and painfully aware of how his father exudes his white privilege, making Lucas guilty by association in the eyes of the locals. He is certainly a flawed character, as most teenage boys are, so I appreciated the growth he exhibited as the story went on. Isabel, the cursed girl, remains an enigma to me. This is another occasion upon which I wish a book had been written in a dual point-of-view. I was intrigued by her “condition” and by her back-story, but some things just did not add up for me. What I did love about Isabel’s character is her determination to be the “master of her fate,” and not have her decisions dictated by a man, whether father or friend.

As A Fierce and Subtle Poison came to an end, it gave me pause to think. The ending is both happy and melancholy, and it causes the reader to consider just how far you’d go to make things right, when they’ve gone horribly wrong. When you realize a flaw in yourself, are you brave enough to face it, or will you turn a blind eye?

Given that A Fierce and Subtle Poison will not be available to the general public until April 12, 2016, there’s not much more I can say without inserting spoilers into the review. Suffice it to say that, though I did find a couple of issues in this book and wish there had been more of everything, I finished it within a day and enjoyed every minute of it. Special thanks to Algonquin Young Readers for giving me an Advance Reading Copy in exchange for an honest review!

Note: If you're looking for more magical realism, I highly recommend The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton.

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