Thursday, September 16, 2021

Book Review: This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

Briseis is gifted with an elemental affinity with plants. She can survive their deadly poisons, revive them from the dead, and grow seedlings into beautiful creations. When her aunt mysteriously leaves a sprawling estate to Briseis in her will, this feels like a perfect opportunity for herself and her moms to start over. To truly understand the potential of her powers, Briseis must unlock underlying secrets to the townspeople seeking dubious remedies and the biological family she’s never known.

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Author Kaylon Bayron’s work has been highly sought after since her debut Cinderella is Dead in 2020. I’ve heard so much about her previous book, I didn’t know what to expect about diving in to her second title – But I like to think it helped me go in with a fresh mind without the lingering hype.

I might’ve picked up This Poison Heart for the beautiful cover and the inclusion of plant-based magic, but I stayed because the book was a genuine joy to breeze through. I didn’t even realize what a page-turner it was until I was racing to reach the ending.

Briseis is a wonderful character to lead the story – she’s not just gifted with the powers she inherited from her biological family, but also found family as well. Her adoptive mothers are respectful and compassionate about what Bresis is facing – magical or otherwise. Being in a world where it seems like no one possesses the abilities she does, enforces doubts and skepticism with others who might freak out about what she can do, take advantage of her, or shame her into hiding. Sometimes in stories including adoption, there are elements of the adoptive child being made to feel like they’re betrayed for wanting to learn more about their history. But here, Briseis’s parents support her but also remain cautious about her boundaries and if they’re being pushed too far. Because of that Briseis is free to explore what she needs to learn and also test the obstacles she faces. But it’s ultimately a combination of her gifts and determination that pushes her to face her truth.

I’ve read some reviews where the first half of the book is described as moving too slow. And, I somewhat agree. Briseis' interactions with other characters are the main source of trying to figure out where the story is heading next. With supporting characters knowing more than Briseis biological family and their reputation, it;s difficult to wait and discover if they’re trustworthy or not. The author does a great job with dangling the right amount of info in front of you and leave you wanting more, but it also made me question if everything would come full circle.

At the same time that mystery rolls out slowly in the beginning but kicks into high gear in the third act, I’d say the most of the book is more of a journey of Briseis accepting her abilities – not shielding what she can do and trying to trust the world around her. And the sprawling estate (which is more like a gothic mansion) full of secret apothecaries, deadly plants, and lingering family history is a beautiful metaphor for the complicated feelings Briseis has about her gifts. 

Bayron leads with mystery, fantasy, and a touch of romance, but also weaves in a layered magic system and mythology that really shows how Briseis connect with her environment. Her descriptions and clearly defined research lets you fully understand Briseis’s perspective and the entire world she’s laying out between over every chapter – and a splendid cliffhanger that makes me want more. 

This Poison Heart is a blast to read and didn’t expect how everything would come together. It captures the diverse gothic urban fantasy that’s been lacking for a long time. Visit Kalynn Bayron's official website here

Trigger warnings to consider: blood, violence, murder, death, poisoning, accidental cutting

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