Summary - Wynter returns from a five-year exile in the bleak Northlands to find her beloved homeland in turmoil. King Jonathan's civilised, multicultural realm is no more; the gibbets and cages have returned. Days of laughter, friendly ghosts and gossipy cats remain only in Wynter's memory - the present confronts her with power play, dark torture chambers, violent ghosts, and cats (those still alive) too scared to talk to humans. The Inquisition is a real and present danger.
Crown Prince Alberon is missing. There are murmurings of a 'Bloody Machine' of untold destructive power. And as Wynter and her friends, Prince Razi and the mysterious Christopher Garron, seek to restore stability to the fragile kingdom, risking death at every turn, Wynter is forced to make a terrible choice.
Set in a fantastical medieval Europe, this is the first book in a compelling trilogy of court intrigue, adventure and romance. It draws the reader in from the very first sentence and doesn't loosen its grip until the last.
Review - The Poison Throne immediately took me back to those fond years when I discovered book detailing the adventures of a lady knight named Alanna. In no way does this mean that Kiernan has borrowed from Pierce, instead it’s about girls in fictional medieval settings trying to buck gender conformities. In the case of our heroine, Wynter, she has the support of her father and we meet her after her considerable carpentry training. Her father, Lorcan, was a master in engineering and design as well as a good friend to the king and as such has been entitled, Lord Proctor.
We join this family of two as they return to the castle after a three year sojourn north. Quickly they realise that all is not well with the kingdom, the cats have stopped talking, people are whisked away and tortured and the heir has been disinherited. The king’s bastard son, Rezi, is to be the new heir and he’s extremely reluctant as he’s loyal to his brother. If Rezi is reluctant then the kingdom is livid – they don’t want an Arab (via Rezi’s mother) as their future ruler. The king is a brute. The heir would rather be a doctor. Lorcan's dying. Wynter’s confused, upset and conflicted and there’s a new guy too – the slippery and charming Christopher.
Featuring some of the most beautiful cover art of the year, The Poison Throne, has a lot going for it. Rich writing, fully formed characters, political intrigue, secret passages, ghosts and horrific torture. Kiernan’s work is amazingly detailed and absorbing, a wonderful debut effort from this Irish author. She has effectively weaved a whole host of characters that aggressively pursue their own goals. The world building is also beautifully achieved with the societal structure, political agendas and even the layout of the castle vividly detailed.
There is a strong relationship depicted between Lorcan and his daughter, he is a widow who is inordinately proud and supportive of Wynter’s achievements. There love is the heart of this novel. Wynter’s relationship with Rezi is a little more complex, each regard the other as their sibling but the nature of that tie is continually altered throughout the novel. This is the one element that frustrated me, Rezi’s love for the family means he also needs to keep them at arm’s length. His constant to-ing and fro-ing between fierce care and removal was focused on a little too much, though I empathise with the character’s predicament. It’s through Rezi and his best friend, Christopher, that we get the lion’s share of action – sword play, fist fights and beatings. However, it’s with Christopher that the romantic interplay begins. Christopher is a man of mystery (complete with missing middle fingers) who also has a way with the ladies yet, Wynter and he manage to establish a sweet link that is based on what is not said between them.
The Poison Throne is a book full of possibilities. With such a strong start, it is exciting to anticipate the second title in this series. Questions are asked, characters are spread across the lands and the royal family is still an absolute mess. Celine Kiernan has debuted with a bang!!
Published - September 2009