Lush and poetic, A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry blends magic realism with an intense murder-mystery thriller in this hypnotic and beautifully written debut.
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.
Mabry’s writing is intoxicating, weaving together a rich and tangible atmosphere of Lucas’s world on Puerto Rico. The setting truly comes alive and becomes, in many ways, a key figure in the story — as much a central character to the plot as Lucas and Isabel. I’ve never been to Puerto Rico, but Mabry’s descriptions made me feel like I was there; she created such a vivid mental picture for me that I could imagine the sounds, the sights, the smells, the feel of it all.
A Fierce and Subtle Poison also comes alive through the stories that the locals perpetuate, and Lucas’s desire to belong on this place that otherwise views him as an outsider. Stories about the witch and the girl with green hair and the “vanished girls” … it all lends the story a truly enchanted feel, long before we even meet Isabel and come to understand her fierce and deadly power. Mabry’s use of magic realism is what makes this book so special. She has mastered the genre, and uses it deftly to create a truly mystical story in which the lines between reality and fantasy are deliciously blurred.
The writing is stunning, the characters intriguing, and the setting so seductive. Look for A Fierce and Subtle Poison in stores April 12th.
PS. That cover though? I’m SO in love with it.