A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry
Published April 12, 2016, by Algonquin Young Readers.
YA > Fantasy, Magical Realism
Everyone knows the legends about the cursed girl–Isabel, the one the señoras whisper about. They say she has green skin and grass for hair, and she feeds on the poisonous plants that fill her family’s Caribbean island garden. Some say she can grant wishes; some say her touch can kill.
Seventeen-year-old Lucas lives on the mainland most of the year but spends summers with his hotel-developer father in Puerto Rico. He’s grown up hearing stories about the cursed girl, and he wants to believe in Isabel and her magic. When letters from Isabel begin mysteriously appearing in his room the same day his new girlfriend disappears, Lucas turns to Isabel for answers–and finds himself lured into her strange and enchanted world. But time is running out for the girl filled with poison, and the more entangled Lucas becomes with Isabel, the less certain he is of escaping with his own life.
I absolutely loved this book! Samantha Mabry’s writing is stunning, as is the story. A Fierce and Subtle Poison is definitely an unforgettable read and a new favorite!
The first thing that stood out to me was that the main character is a boy. While I’m all for female characters, I don’t seem to read enough books with male protagonists. Lucas wasn’t an extraordinary character, but I did enjoy his curiosity, kindness, and drive to learn the truth. He also presented an interesting perspective of Puerto Rico, being a summer resident, wealthy, and from America.
There are many bits about the culture and nature of storytelling in Puerto Rico, which I quite enjoyed. The book revolves around one specific legend surrounding an old house at the end of one well-known street. Lucas and his island friends speculate which stories about the house and its residents are true, and throw wishes to be granted by the witch over the house’s tall gated walls.
While grounded in modern-day reality, this book is full of magical elements. I was so intrigued by Isabel and the poisonous plants. She and her father are very complex characters, but I really felt for Isabel — she’s trapped in a life that leaves her lonely and feared.
The relationship between Lucas and Isabel was…special. I wouldn’t classify it necessarily as a romantic one. The two definitely had a strong connection, that I could see developing into more given the chance. I really liked the chemistry they had together.
I’ve read some reviews that question the development of the magical elements. I didn’t particularly mind the vagueness that sometimes happened when it came to the details of magic and the plants. Instead of leaving me wanting more, it allowed me to imagine and build my own stories, much like the legends surrounding Isabel.
I also loved that Isabel did in fact collect the wishes, and the way she mysteriously wrote to Lucas. By upholding the legends, she kind of became one herself, and added even more magic to the story.
This isn’t your average book about magic. It’s short, sometimes vague, but not lacking in beauty or room for imagination. While not for everyone, I urge you to give it a try, because it’s a special story that packs an emotional punch. It reminded me of the feeling I got when reading magical, dreamy stories as a child. It has a way of pulling you in and taking you on a fairytale-esque journey, but in a more mature way.
A Fierce and Subtle Poison is a beautifully unique story that will stick with you long after reading!