Briseis has a gift: she can grow plants from tiny seeds to rich blooms with a single touch.
When Briseis’s aunt dies and wills her a dilapidated estate in rural New York, Bri and her parents decide to leave Brooklyn behind for the summer. Hopefully there, surrounded by plants and flowers, Bri will finally learn to control her gift. But their new home is sinister in ways they could never have imagined–it comes with a specific set of instructions, an old-school apothecary, and a walled garden filled with the deadliest botanicals in the world that can only be entered by those who share Bri’s unique family lineage.
When strangers begin to arrive on their doorstep, asking for tinctures and elixirs, Bri learns she has a surprising talent for creating them. One of the visitors is Marie, a mysterious young woman that Bri befriends, only to find that Marie is keeping dark secrets about the history of the estate and the surrounding community. There is more to Bri’s sudden inheritance than she could have imagined, and she is determined to uncover it. . . until a nefarious group comes after her in search of a rare and dangerous immortality elixir. Up against a centuries-old curse and the deadliest plant on earth, Bri must harness her gift and protect herself and her family.
- Title: This Poison Heart
- Author: Kalynn Bayron
- Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
- Genre: Fantasy, YA, Retelling
- Age Range: YA
- Trigger warnings: brief depictions of grief, mentions of adoption, murder, death of a parent, blood and gore, decapitation, dismemberment, strong language
- Rating: ★★★★★
A major, major thank you to Bloomsbury YA for sending me a copy of this ARC!
This Poison Heart follows Briseis, a girl with a magical gift: she can grow plants from tiny seeds to rich blooms with a single touch. Bri spends most of her time immersed with plants; researching them, studying them, trying to find a way to manage her gift, and working at her family’s floral shop, which is aptly named after her. When Bri finds out that her biological aunt has passed away, and left an estate in rural New York under her name, Bri and her parents, Mom and Mo, decide to go check it out. Once they’re there, Bri finds out that she’s the talk of the town, and everything isn’t quite what it seems.
I was hooked by This Poison Heart from the very first sentence — and I don’t say that lightly. I picked up This Poison Heart without knowing anything about it, other than that it was written by the author of Cinderella is Dead (which is on my TBR), and I’m honestly so glad that I did.
If you like Greek mythology, strong female characters, the “chosen one” trope, plant magic, magical heritage, family secrets, or any combination of the above, you won’t want to miss out on This Poison Heart. A The Secret Garden retelling meets Greek mythology, Bayron has created one of the most unique, and captivating stories I’ve read in a long time. Admittedly, I wasn’t super familiar with some of the myths mentioned in This Poison Heart, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of it in the slightest. If anything, I think I’ll be researching the myths mentioned from now until eternity.
From the get-go, I was rooting for Bri. She’s the kind of heroine that you can’t help but love. Bri is kind and caring, and looking for a place to belong. Bri holds her friends at arm’s length, unsure who she can or can’t trust with her magic, or how to explain it. Being a young person is hard enough, and I cannot imagine trying to understand and hone a magical power on top of all of that. And on a personal note, I loved her love for musicals!
One of my favorite things in YA are healthy family dynamics. I loved Bri’s dynamic with her mothers, and also how supportive they were of her. Both Mom and Mo had so much love for Bri, and I loved their tenderness, their unwavering love, and their gentle teasing of one another. I also really appreciated that Bayron emphasized that Bri wanting to learn more about her birth mother and her biological family wasn’t a betrayal to her moms.
The magic system in This Poison Heart is captivating, to say the least. While I’m not a huge fantasy person, I loved reading about the elemental magic system, and thoroughly enjoyed the gothic atmosphere. Something that really stood out to me about This Poison Heart was how Bayron presented commentary on social issues, and would love to see more of that presented in the fantasy genre.
I’m not going to lie — I was incredibly stressed out throughout the second half of the book, and spent a good chunk of it unsure of who I could or couldn’t trust. I ended up being a little suspicious of everyone, and I will say one of my inklings did come true, so I felt very validated by that. Even still, I was taken by surprise at certain points, and I’m sure rereading it will allow me to pick up on some missed foreshadowing.
Bayron’s writing truly transported me into Rhinebeck, New York, and I often felt like I was with Bri, walking along the bookstore and in the gardens. I found the cast of characters in Rhinebeck fascinating, and I cannot wait to read more about them all in the sequel. With the sequel, I’m really hoping that more of my questions will be answered, as I felt like a good chunk of this book was laying out the groundwork for the sequel, and that the relationship between Bri and her love interest will be better developed.
Ultimately, I think my only complaint for This Poison Heart was the insta-love and the romance storyline. Insta-love is one of my least favorite tropes, and I hope that their relationship will be better developed in the sequel!
As I am not an adoptee, nor am I Black, I highly recommend checking ownvoices reviews. I’ll be updating this review with ownvoices reviews once I come across them!
Kalynn Bayron is the bestselling author of the award winning YA fantasy CINDERELLA IS DEAD. She is a classically trained vocalist and when she’s not writing you can find her listening to Ella Fitzgerald on loop, attending the theater, watching scary movies, and spending time with her kids. She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas with her family.
Have you picked this up, or will you be picking this up? Let me know in the comments below!