Poison

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Poison Book Poster Image
Fun, fast-paced fantasy with potion-packing heroine.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational value

Kids will enjoy imagining life in a medieval-type realm.

Positive messages

Kyra learns that she must stay true to what she knows is right, even when it requires sacrificing friendship, the comforts of home, and her own well being.

Positive role models & representations

Kyra is a strong, decisive young woman. An expert in throwing weapons (like darts) and making magical potions, she can defend herself both physically and emotionally. Although unhappy with her looks, she's brave and resourceful and doesn't let anyone stand in her way.

Violence

Realistic hand-to-hand combat is described in detail. Kyra uses poison-tipped darts against her foes, although the poison only puts people to sleep for a short time. Her pet pig, Rosie, suffers "bloody puncture holes where the dog's teeth had sunk into her belly." Kyra is asked by her king to mix and administer a potentially lethal potion for prisoner interrogation. There are goblins, witches, and all manner of scary fantasy creatures.

Sex

Sixteen-year-old Kyra flirts and exchanges a few kisses with Fred, the object of her affection. Male and female teenagers live together as housemates; 16 appears to be the age of majority in this realm, and people marry at this age. Kyra's nudity under wet underclothes is mentioned but not described in detail. There's an implication of Kyra as a sex object when a bad guy looks at her body and asks what she can offer in return for a favor, but the issue isn't pursued further, and Kyra responds as though unaware of the implication. Male gender stereotypes are perpetuated when Fred tries to teach Kyra and the princess how pass as men.

Language

Reference to a "pompous arse" character who doesn't appear in the story.

Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

Kyra drinks mead once. Otherwise, 16-year-olds and adults are occasionally depicted drinking beer in pubs or at celebrations. Sixteen appears to be the age of majority in this realm.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the scary world in Poison -- roughly equivalent to the Middle Ages -- is inhabited by witches, goblins, and many other fantastical creatures. Some scariness is akin to that in fairy tales, as when a witch threatens to eat Kyra and Fred. Other times it's psychological, as when Kyra's asked to assist with prisoner interrogation. Hand-to-hand combat is described in detail, as are serious injuries. The heroine chooses to operate outside the law in order to save the kingdom, but her choice isn't glorified. Blossoming romance is flirtatious, and physical responses are mentioned but not described in detail; there are two full kisses on the lips. A note on the back flap informs readers that, sadly, first-time author Bridget Zinn died before the book's publication.

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What's the story?

Kyra has a vision of the kingdom in ruins, and the only way to save it is by killing the princess, her best friend. To save the day, Kyra will need to go into hiding and enlist the help of a criminal overlord, an adorable pink pig, and a handsome young man. In hiding and on the run, she uses her wits, her considerable skills in potion making, and her deadly aim with poison darts to save the day.

Is it any good?

POISON is an entertaining fantasy that has all the earmarks of another big franchise. Unfortunately, the untimely death of first-time author Bridget Zinn may cut that short. Although not as witty or poetic as the best fantasy novels, Poison offers a richly, if familiarly, imagined world. And while the basis for the quest is fairly flimsy and not well reasoned ahead of time, the characters are well fleshed out, and the pace doesn't slacken from start to finish.

Kyra would be a top-notch female role model ... if only she didn't mind her hair texture or chest size and if she had thought the decision to kill her best friend through more carefully before undertaking the task. But precisely for these reasons, the target audience will no doubt find her easy to relate to, and she's admirable for her resourcefulness and skills in traditionally male-dominated areas.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the trend in fairy tale-type stories. Why do you think they're so popular in young adult novels, movies, and TV shows

  • Is Kyra's difficult (and deadly) decision justified to save the kingdom? Is there anything else she could have done before making this extreme decision?

  • What would it be like to have the power to make a truth-telling potion like Kyra has? Who would you give it to?

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