Title: A Fierce and Subtle Poison
Author: Samantha Mabry
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date: April 12th 2016
*I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review*
A Fierce and Subtle Poison, Samantha Mabry’s debut novel, is a uniquely imaginative tale that merges mystery with fantasy. Lucas spends his summers in Puerto Rico, largely unsupervised by his father. It makes no difference to him, as he’d rather hang out with his friends or hook up with girls. When the bodies of missing girls begin to wash ashore, Lucas’s world takes an unexpected turn. For as long as he can remember, Lucas has always been fascinated with the stories that surround the family that lived in the last house on Calle Sol. Sometimes he even believes that he dreams about the strange girl who lived there, the one who can grant any wish. But the girl Lucas stumbles upon is very different from the one of local myths. It isn’t until Isabel makes her first appearance after reaching out to Lucas that the story became interesting. Growing up in almost complete isolation, Isabel is a web of contradictions. She is strong-willed, but afraid, selfish but also self-sacrificing. She’s spent her life behind walls, cursed with watching other people live but unable to take part.
A Fierce and Subtle Poison is a short novel that reads more like a short-story than a full novel. While reading I could not help but desire more. I wanted to further explore the stories Lucas grew up hearing, to explore Puerto Rico through the eyes of a local, and to understand more about how Isabel was raised. The story is told through Lucas’s point of view and I found his perspective to be entirely too limited. While one can infer this is necessary in order to emphasize the fact that as a privileged white kid, Lucas’s outlook on life, especially of Puerto Rico, is very limited, I believe the novel would have benefited from being told from Isabel’s perspective as well. Lucas is hard to relate to and is quite insufferable at the beginning of the novel. Although he seems aware that his father has a strong sense of entitlement and by extension he himself has inherited this kind of arrogance, it was still all about him and how he suffered for having been raised by a rich, absent father. It was hard for me to care about this when compared to Isabel’s circumstances. The mystery of the novel was very interesting, but I didn’t think the story spent enough time on backstory to fully understand the resolution given in the end.
Despite its flaws, Samantha Mabry’s storytelling shows a lot of promise and I look forward to seeing what other novels she writes in the future.