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The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan

I know I'm a little late on this one, but it's been that kind of month and the nasty reading slump in the middle of it did not help things in the slightest. I didn't want to ruin this read with my foul mood, so I started it, put it down again, and waited until things had picked up some before giving it a go. The Poison Throne--the first book in Celine Kiernan's Moorehawke Trilogy--is the book Missy suggested I read for the first round of Tell Me What to Read and I eagerly anticipated picking it up. I was especially excited as Missy likened it to Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia books as far as the quality of intrigue and political fantasy go. And as anyone familiar with me knows, this is very high praise indeed. So I picked up a copy at my local bookstore and took it home that night. I have to say I love the covers Orbit has designed for this trilogy's U.S. debut. Previously published in Ireland and Australia, all three books have already seen a handful of lovely covers and I like the leafy vignette and swirling cloak style going on here.

Wynter Moorehawke and her ailing father Lorcan have returned home after five years away in the barbaric North. Home once more, Wynter cannot wait to renew her friendship with her beloved quasi-siblings Razi and Alberon. Both sons of King Jonathan--one legitimate and one illegitimate--Wynter grew up with these boys, running all over the castle that was their home. But when she comes across Razi in the kitchens, Wynter discovers that things have changed in the years she's been gone. And not for the better. Jonathan has changed, gone from a tolerant and fair ruler to a cruel and unreasonable lord intent on naming his legitimate (and suspiciously missing) heir Alberon as dead and grooming the illegitimate Razi on the throne in his place. Tensions are more than high as Razi--a gifted doctor--does not want to be king at all, his people would prefer open war to a dark-skinned by-blow on the throne, and the king appears increasingly unstable and violent. Into this maelstrom Wynter is thrown without a by your leave, yet she is simultaneously expected to accept all these changes without question and play her part as an apprentice carpenter under her father's tutelage. But Razi needs her. And his unusual and generally unwelcome friend Christopher seems to be always underfoot and in need of a watchful eye. And Wynter is determined to stand by her friend and get to the bottom of this mounting disaster.

I was sucked into this novel right away. I enjoyed Wynter's easy relationship with her father and it was fun  feeling my way around the castle along with her as she struggled to come to terms with the magnitude of the changes that had overtaken it in her absence. I loved the slight hints at the supernatural in the cats Wynter used to be able to communicate with and the many ghosts that haunt the castle and can clearly tell when danger is afoot. And, though initially a bit confusing, I liked the historical setting in a sort of alternate Europe, sprinkled here and there with references to such places as Padua and the Moroccos. And I was all set to enjoy Wynter, with her brotherly affection for the educated and kind Razi and her righteously indignant banter with the handsome rascal Christopher. However, somewhere around the halfway mark my enthusiasm began to pall. Nothing seemed to happen and each of the characters became oh-so-tiresome. Wynter was reduced to running here and there after the various men in her life. All of whom, by the way, needed a swift kick in the pants if you ask me. There seemed to be a sort of imbalance across the whole narrative. Characters who are innocent and loving one minute turn into raving lunatics the next, hugs and fond reminiscences are bedfellows with what felt like an out-of-place amount of surprisingly cruel and coarse violence. Wynter adores her "brother" Razi and, despite being frequently annoyed with him putting her off and not telling her things, she forgives him at the drop of a hat. And the instant forgiving soon extends to much more heinous crimes than withholding the truth. So much so that I started to lose my respect for both of them. Disliking Razi made it difficult to believe in him and in Wynter's affection for him. And, as much as I liked Christopher, with his mutilated hands and his mysterious past, I was not exactly keen on 15-year-old Wynter falling for a young man quite so promiscuous as he. All of this is to say that there was quite a bit of potential but it was a struggle  to finish and ultimately fell flat for me.

The Book Smugglers Review
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
My Fluttering Heart Review
Persnickety Snark Review
The Speculative Scotsman Review


  1. I'm sorry the story fell flat for you-the story seems very intriguing... I'm still willing to give it a try, although I think now I'll to get a copy from my library rather than buying it. o.O

  2. Anonymous11:25 AM

    I'm sorry this didn't work for you. It's a good review, letting us know why it didn't work. Thanks for that! I'll eventually read my copy, but I'll probably move it from the top of the list now and wait before purchasing the second book. I have a habit of buying sequels before reading the first book. (I have all of Rachel Vincent's werecat books, but I haven't even read Stray yet!)

    Are you getting ready fro BEA? I have a new Must-Have book - Matched by Ally Condie. For some reason, I really want this book!


  3. Anonymous12:22 PM

    Sorry you didn't care for the book, that's disappointing. Wynter is one of my favorite girl names. If my last baby was a girl I wanted that name, but my hubby said he were not hippies. lol

  4. Pirate, yeah, give it a try. I think I'm in the minority here and I'm glad. It had a lot going for it. I just couldn't stand by the characters after awhile.

    Karen, I know. I'm sorry as well! :) I love your sequel-buying habit. The werecat series is good fun. Not I've got the most recent one on my shelf and really need to get to it. I like Faythe.

    I'm SO excited for BEA! It's right around the corner now. And I am with you on MATCHED. It looks awesome. Can't wait to see you there!

    Tiah, Wynter is a great name. I agree. And your hubby is funny. hehe.

  5. Oh now you have me scared :(. I has really looking foward to this book. I bought it and will read it and let you know what I think.

    Great review :)

  6. BEA! I'm going to BEA too :)

  7. I read this one recently too and although I enjoyed the story, I know what you mean about the imbalance. It kind of bothered me too that at one moment everyone was too sickeningly sweet to be true and then at the next moment they seemed the opposite. There didn't seem to be an in between; it always seemed like one extreme or the other.

  8. I'm sorry that you didn't like this book but I'm glad I got to read your review because the premise is intriguing and I'm always curious about books likened to MWT's work. Now that I've read your review, I'm not in a hurry to grab this book.

  9. Rosey, sorry to scare! I really think I'm in the minority somewhat with this one so there's a fair chance you'll enjoy it... Definitely let me know!

    Pirate, WOO-HOO! We'll have to meet up for sure. :)

    Kristen, yep, I've read your review now and I can totally see why you liked it. I ended up just mad at Razi in particular and frustrated with the characters' lack of integrity and all that crazy violence. Maybe I was in a more fragile mood than I usually am. I don't know.

    Chachic, I have to say the MWT comparison SHOCKS me. I found no similarities but that they both dealt with court politics. Sort of.

  10. Really? Okay so this book has been bumped off my wishlist. I wonder why it was compared to MWT's books.

  11. From the little I've heard, I don't get the MWT comparisons either. My work is apparently much more violent and the characters less clear cut (perhaps it's Christopher? Folks seem to be comparing him to the main character in The Thief?)

    This is a great review, Angie, thank you. You took such great care to explain why you didn't like the book. Certainly if you couldn't stomach the violence in PT, you shouldn't be tempted to try Crowded Shadows. In that book the characters are plunged even further into the physical violence of their world, and they behave even more like people of their time outside the castle than they did within the relative safety of palace society.

    (BTW - I try not to read my reviews. But a fan on goodreads asked me to respond to yours and I guess it would be rude not to. You're a popular reviewer :0D Congratulations.)

  12. Celine, thank you so much for stopping by! And I'm very sorry you went ahead and read a review and it was a negative one.

    It wasn't really the degree of violence that bothered me, it was how there seemed to be few emotional repercussions for the characters as a result of it.

    And I think you're right that it's Christopher people relate to Gen from MWT's series. He was definitely my favorite character as well.

    I read this one because of The Book Smugglers review. They really are a force to be reckoned with, aren't they? :)

  13. The Bookssmugglers are fantastic! Where do they get the energy? I'm lucky if I get time to read a book a fortnight! (do you think I'd like the Attolia books BTW? The review of The Thief on Booksmugglers made me doubt it?)

    Don't worry about the review, honestly. I completely respect a reviewer's right (duty even!) to tell it as they see it. And it's a piss poor book that evokes the same response in everyone :0)I used to compulsively read my reviews because I thought I'd learn something from them - but that was very innocent of me. There are just too many opinions out there, and all of them valid! LOL!

    Yup, there's very little moralising over violence in these books. The characters having been raised in a world where 'might is right' and they know there is no other way for them. Even Christopher's qualms over Isaac have nothing to do with the poor guy's death - only with the fact that he was tortured. But you are mistaken to think that Razi simply walks away from his torture of Isaac with no doubts or personal consequences. The torture is never something he (or anyone else) doubts he should have done. But it is something that returns to him throughout the books and something he regrets having to have done. In the end, I like the fact that it's not the torture of Isaac that gets the information - it's Wynter's gentleness when she goes to interrogate his ghost in the dungeons.

    Razi can be a difficult character to love. I think that all through these books he teeters on the edge of a knife, on one hand he is someone who heals, wishes to improve his fellow's lives and almost suffocatingly protects those he loves, and on the other hand h is someone who will ruthlessly, almost heartlessly, sacrifice everything for his father's kingdom. Ditto Wyn, though she abhors cruelty she never struggles with any doubts over the use of violence, or the sacrifice of others in order that the Southlands won't descend into the type of intolerance and repression she saw run rampant in the North.

  14. OK, apparently you and I review a couple of the same books - I've posted a link to your review from mine of this book, too. Cheers!


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