Not all gifts are welcome. Briseis is bright and determined and if keeping herself in check didn’t require so much of her energy, she’d be an excellent student. But as it is, trying to stop plants – flowers, trees, grass – from reacting to her presence takes a lot of focus. Furthermore, when you’re hiding who you are, it’s hard to keep your friends or make new ones. So when Briseis learns that her birth sister’s mother willed her a property in the countryside, Briseis and her mothers decide to leave Brooklyn and their flower shop for a while and spend the summer in the house the teenager inherited. Despite her fear of being overwhelmed when surrounded by plants, Briseis finds herself able to relax in a brand new way. She also realises there’s more to what she inherited than an old house and a garden. Her birth family’s history goes back a very long time and her ability to make plants grow is only the tip of the iceberg. The safe part of the iceberg.
The main character, Briseis, is relatable despite her incredible gift, her two moms – Mom and Mo – are wonderful, all three are complex and flawed but full of love and trust. I loved the moms, the relationship between them and their relationship with their daughter.
When the three of them first arrive in the small town near which the estate is located, Briseis and her parents worry that everyone seems so white, and Briseis brings up the movie Get Out and jokes that she doesn’t want a white woman living in her body. With a few words here and there, Bayron inserts social commentary in a way that feels so natural it almost seems inadvertent. Very efficient, however.
Because they’re new to the area, Briseis and her parents meet the secondary characters at the same time as the reader. We have the same information about the people they come across. We trust who they trust, dislike who they’re wary of. Not all are who they seem to be and those who apparently are might reveal themselves not to be in the next book. Whatever happens, I hope we get to see more of Marie, the gorgeous young woman who pikes Briseis’s interest, and her unusual bodyguard Nyx, as well as Mama Lucille, Dr Grant and her father the alchemist, and others.
I enjoyed Kalynn Bayron’s debut novel Cinderella is Dead a lot last summer, and was looking forward to her second book. I’m happy to say that I liked it even more and that the issues I had with the writing of the first book aren’t a problem with this one. This Poison Heart feels like The Little Shop of Horrors meets Percy Jackson, with Greek mythology mixed with killer plants and Black girl magic.
Bayron sets the atmosphere cleverly, slowly, quietly, until it becomes stifling and thrilling towards the end. Speaking of which, This Poison Heart is the first book in a series and ends on a stunning cliffhanger. I don’t know when the next installment is planned and I hope we won’t have to wait too long to find out what happens next.