An Affair of Poisons

Image result for an affair of poisonsFirst Lines: My laboratory reeks of death.  Not of blood and flesh and decay, but the garlicky bite of arsenic, the musty essence of hemlock, and the sweet smell of oleander–like rose water and citrus.

This book caught my eye at the library because, well, it looked historical and am I really going to pass something up where the cover talks about a king killer and poison?  No, I’m not.  Not without looking a little closer first.  When it still looked good, I took it home with me.

After unknowingly helping her mother kill King Louis XIV of France, Mirabelle Monvoisin suddenly realizes her mother’s Shadow Society isn’t who they’ve always claimed they are.  They were supposed to help the poor, to aide those the king was ignoring.  It was never supposed to be about getting power and killing the king.  Josse de Bourbon is the son of a king and a maid, forced to be more of a kitchen boy than a prince.  When his father, King Louis XIV, is killed by the Shadow Society, it’s up to Josse to protect his half-siblings.  Hiding the sewers beneath the city, Josse is desperate to save his sisters, though he doesn’t know how to bring reason back to a city that seems to have lost all sense.  His path crosses with Mirabelle and the two of them begin planning.  A poisoner and a prince–the unlikely combination may be the only thing that saves Paris.

I thought this was really interesting! A genre-blending read that was something of a historical fantasy.

The story itself is fascinating and intense. Initially taken from an actual historical event, it starts with a poisoning. A poisoner named La Voisin kills King Louis XIV of France because of his decadence and neglect of his poorer subjects. (This is where it diverges from history. Louis didn’t die.) With the king dead, now La Voisin is trying to take his place as ruler, but ruling is never as easy as it looks.

Our narrators were what made the story, though. Mira’s mother is La Voisin. Mira is the alchemist in charge of making all of the tinctures and poisons she uses to help citizens. Mira’s left in the dark about the plot to kill the king and she’s devastated when she sees what her actions have caused. Mira has a good heart, but she’s a flawed character. She wants to help people, but her past keeps getting in the way. Josse is the bastard son of the king and a maid. Working as a kitchen boy, Josse becomes his half-siblings’ only means of survival because he’s the least recognizable of the five of them. His main objective is to keep his youngest half-sisters alive and he’ll do whatever he has to to secure that. He’s also a very flawed character, sometimes hotheaded and impulsive among other things.

I mean, these characters, all of them, are complex. Which is the best way to write characters. La Voisin, even, is both good and horribly despicable. None of the characters are all good or all bad and it was so refreshing to read about characters who do walk that line. You understand where they’re coming from even if it’s hard to stomach.

The fantasy elements I thought were fairly well done. Mostly that boiled down to the alchemy Mira was able to do and a little bit of magic that crept into the story. It was enough to give it a different feel to the story without making it feel like it was taking away from the actual history this was all based on.

While it took me a little while to get into the story, I did actually really enjoy this. For a debut, it’s a solid read.

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