ARC Review: A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry

3.5/5 Stars 
Published by Algonquin Young Readers
Published April 12, 2016

Synopsis: Everyone knows the legends about the cursed girl--Isabel, the one the señoras whisper about. They say she has green skin and grass for hair, and she feeds on the poisonous plants that fill her family’s Caribbean island garden. Some say she can grant wishes; some say her touch can kill.

Seventeen-year-old Lucas lives on the mainland most of the year but spends summers with his hotel-developer father in Puerto Rico. He’s grown up hearing stories about the cursed girl, and he wants to believe in Isabel and her magic. When letters from Isabel begin mysteriously appearing in his room the same day his new girlfriend disappears, Lucas turns to Isabel for answers--and finds himself lured into her strange and enchanted world. But time is running out for the girl filled with poison, and the more entangled Lucas becomes with Isabel, the less certain he is of escaping with his own life.
  • Thank you Algonquin for sending me an advanced readers copy in exchange for an honest review!
This was an interesting read. I was genuinely surprised by the quality of the writing presented to me in this book. Samantha Mabry did an excellent job of combining cultural beliefs/superstitions with magic realism, and was able to create a story unlike others I have read. I read A Fierce and Subtle Poison in two sittings because it was just that intriguing. There was something about the writing that drew me in and had me craving more. I was totally invested in the myths and curses that were introduced to me in this story, and I gotta say that it were these stories in particular that allowed me to build a connection with the main character. If there was one thing I could complain about, it is that this book feels too short! By the last chapter, I had so many unanswered questions and I just wanted more.

The thing I enjoyed the most about this book was the cultural aspect. A Fierce and Subtle Poison is set in San Juan, Puerto Rico and it's clear from the beginning that Samantha Mabry had a fun and extensive time researching myths and legends passed down through the generations. It was fascinating to see how these legends (whether real or made up by the author, I am unsure) affected the characters; how they ultimately developed their whole lives -morals and personalities- due to myths. I found the inclusion of the language and the life of the island to add so much more charisma to the story. The plot was extremely fun and I just recently found out that Samantha was inspired by a short story entitled Rappaccini's Daughter, which deals with a boy falling in love with a girl full of poison.

It was interesting and refreshing to read through the narrative of a male character and I thought Samantha Mabry brought great insight into the mind of a teenage boy currently residing on a beautiful island surrounded by just as beautiful girls. I didn't enjoy reading from Lucas' point of view as much as I wanted to, mostly because he was so back and forth with himself. However, it was the combination of Lucas, his friends, and the cursed girl, Isabel, that was invigorating. These friends go through a lot in the duration of this book, between disappearing girls, unpredictable weather, and the fight to save not only yourself, but others around you.

A Fierce and Subtle Poison is the story of discovering your inner hero, acting on your deepest wishes and desires, and finding the courage to free yourself. Though I had a problem with how much was left unanswered and the open ended conclusion, this book was effortlessly written in a literary style that was just as magical as the plot itself. Samantha Mabry's debut is one that will make you want to fully emerge yourself in a world full of magic realism.