*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This is no way swayed my opinions.*
A Fierce and Subtle Poison is Samantha Mabry’s debut YA novel following a teen named Lucas who lives in Puerto Rico. Lucas is not well liked within the community, especially by the local police officer, because he is mostly viewed as a troublemaker who has everything handed to him. He spends most of his time drinking and hooking up with local girls and he doesn’t have any concrete direction for his future but he expects to work for his father once he’s old enough. One day, a girl from the states goes missing and her case because the talk of the island. Then several more girls disappear and their common denominator is Lucas. On the same day Lucas’s girlfriend disappears, he receives a mysterious note from local legend Isabel, a girl with green skin and green hair who is said to be poisonous to the touch.
A Fierce and Subtle Poison is a diverse read as it takes place in Puerto Rico. While the main character, Lucas, is half white, half Dominican, all of the supporting characters (except his hotel mogul father and Dr. Ford, a botanist living in the supposedly cursed house at the end of Calle Sol) are native to the island. The text within the novel is predominantly English but throughout the story, it’s also interspersed with some Spanish. Having taken Spanish for 5 years in school, I found it mostly easy to follow with the exception of a few words here and there. If you’re unable to speak or understand any Spanish, you’ll still be able to figure out what the author is saying for the most part (although I did struggle with a couple of words and then curse my memory for not having remembered them once I figured them out). However, the description of locations within Puerto Rico and the beaches on the islands were absolutely beautiful.
Because the characters are living on a tiny island, everyone seems to know everyone’s business. I appreciated the lore of the island and how all of the senoras would tell younger generations the same legends. The one legend we read about most is that of Isabel, the supposedly cursed girl who lives with her father Dr. Ford in the house at the end of Calle Sol. Dr. Ford is a botanist who tends to the Caribbean garden in his backyard and people fear his house because of the circumstances under which his wife left (his wife was a local island girl who was said to be cursed as a child which is why she bore an anomaly such as Isabel). Lucas becomes involved in their lives during his quest to find one of the missing girls and I won’t spoil what happens from there. One complaint I have is that the pacing of the story was very uneven. The beginning of the story is very slow, interesting, but slow and by the final pages I was worried that the story wouldn’t have enough time to tie everything up. The conclusion is open ended so if that’s a thing that bothers you, I would skip this one.
Final Thoughts: A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry is an intriguing debut YA novel as it is a blend between magical realism and a thriller. The Puerto Rican island setting is described beautifully and the legends of the cursed girl who’s touch is fatal will keep you intrigued as everything unfolds. The pacing is a bit inconsistent and the conclusion is open ended but overall I found it to be a quick and enjoyable read.
In this stunning debut, legends collide with reality when a boy is swept into the magical, dangerous world of a girl filled with poison.
Everyone knows the legends about the cursed girl–Isabel, the one the senoras 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. (via Goodreads)