ARC Review: A Fierce and Subtle Poison

A Fierce and Subtle Poison

Title: A Fierce and Subtle Poison

Author: Samantha Mabry

Series: N/A

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Release Date: April 12th 2016


Four Stars

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.

– Blurb courtesy of

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

My Thoughts On…

…The Plot

‘I wish I could lift the curse over the house at the end of Calle Sol so the birds would fly over it again.’
The paper was dirty and smudged in places, as if passed through many sets of hands, and the crease in the centre was fragile, as if it had been un-folded, read and re-folded several times.
And, underneath my barely legible scrawl, in that perfect cursive: ‘So what’s stopping you?’

Lucas has spent every summer in El Morro as his father works to develop the small town building luxury hotels. When he was younger he would spend his days listening to stories, mainly about the house at the end of the street, and creating adventures with his friends. Now they’re older Lucas spends his time drinking on the beach and picking up girls, but he still listens to the stories and his is still curious about the house at the end of the street.

However there is something terrible happening. There have always been Puerto Rican girls going missing, desaparecidas, the disappeared girls who vanish without a trace never to be seen again. But when a girl from the mainland goes missing a full scale search is launched, and later when Lucas’s girlfriend, Marisol, washes up on the beach it appears there is something more sinister at play than accidental drownings. The rash on Marisol’s neck points to poison and there is one house in El Morro which grows poisonous plants like daisies.

When I stepped through the door, my foot landed directly on a textured, cream-coloured card.
I snatched it off the ground and immediately recognized the handwriting.
‘Please come back,’ it read. ‘My name is Isabel. I’d like to talk to you about the disappeared girl.’

While the police are focused on Lucas as a suspect, Lucas finally makes his way into the house at the end of the street; and there he meets Isabel. Isabel is the cursed child the locals have been talking about and dreaming about for years. They say she has green skin and grass for hair, they say she can grant wishes, they say her father killed her mother or that her mother killed herself, they say that her mother left a curse on her home and that’s why no birds will fly over. The truth however is much more unsettling; Isabel has poison flowing through her veins. She cannot touch someone without making them deadly sick, and she needs to surrounded herself with plants in order to stay well enough to survive.

The more time Lucas spends with Isabel the more things start to get dangerous for the both of them, and not just because of Isabel’s curse.  Then when Marisol’s younger sister Celia goes missing the hunt for the killer and kidnapper intensifies, and Lucas finds himself a suspect, stuck in between the law and a very dangerous person.

…The Characters

“I didn’t fear stories, or closed-up houses, or witches, or notes from ghosts, or even the possibility of being cursed. I’d spent my whole life on this island running towards those things, throwing rocks back at those who threw rocks at me, waiting up for phantoms.”

Lucas, on paper, seemed like a great character. Granted he had his faults but he was well developed. Lucas is interested in the history and culture of El Morro and Puerto Rico, seeking out all the local tales the señoras whisper about his father and the cursed girl with green skin and grass for hair. Lucas has never had to work for anything, he knows he has a job waiting for him in his father’s company once he finishes school, but he seems detached from the world at times; curious about walking into the sea and letting the tide carry him away.

However there was something about Lucas that just seemed flat. His relationship with the other characters was never really deep enough to feel real. He rarely interacted with his father, the two of them awkward and tense with one another, and he seemed to hold something back from his friends. Honestly they didn’t seem like real friend, just people he hung around with in El Morro. The relationship Lucas had with Marisol seemed more like a distraction, a bit of fun, for Lucas; and his relationship with Isabel felt like one mostly of idolisation than true friendship or love.

“I blinked – one, two, three times – and the girl finally came into focus. She didn’t have green skin and grass for hair. She was around my age, but bird-boned and short, dressed in jeans that were patched in places and rolled up to her ankles.”

Isabel I adored. She has been trapped in her house, surrounded by the poisonous plants she needs to survive, since she was born. The people of El Morro have told stories about her her whole live, ever since she started appearing in their dreams, and they throw their wishes to her over her fence. Isabel is a strong character; because of her curse she is desperate for a cure. She just wants a normal life and is willing to close her eyes to anything bad happening around her if she hopes it will enable her to leave her home without a blanket of plants wrapped around her shoulders.

“I would watch you when you would stand by the water,” she said. “The way you looked out to the horizon…I knew we were the same. We both wanted something. We weren’t really sure what it was, or if we deserved it…But now we know, and now we have it.”

The relationship between Isabel and Lucas felt like one of shallow idolisation. On one hand there’s Lucas, who has a hero complex and wants to ‘save’ Isabel. As he listened to the stories told by the señoras he formed a picture of the girl in his mind and becomes curious about her, her home, and the truth behind the whispers. Then on the other hand there’s Isabel, who has watched Lucas pretty much every summer he was in El Morro. She knows a lot about him and seems to see past his surface emotions to who he really is. She understands him in a way most other people don’t but I didn’t think the two really interacted much together to make their relationship any more than superficial.

…The Setting

“The scientist’s house looked like it always looked: derelict and unloved except for the leaves bursting over the courtyard wall.
When I got over the gate, I stopped to catch my breath and study a series of rusted-over iron latches affixed to the wood.
Inspired by Marisol’s boldness from last night, I glanced up and down the empty street and then pounded my fist against the gate five times.”

I loved the setting for this book. Mabry has richly described the city in Puerto Rico where Lucas spends his summers; the good, the beaches and the Festival de San Juan which lines the streets in June, and the bad, the mosquitoes which swarm the streets every few years. However the thing I loved the most about the setting of this book was hearing the stories Lucas eagerly sought out, the whispers the señoras share with him; about Isabel’s curse and what happened between her mother and father in the house at the end of the street, about the nun who inhabited and died in Lucas’s room when it was still a covenant. The city is a very tight knit community; the locals don’t like or trust Lucas or his father, to them he is the white man who has come in and is shaking up their lives to create luxury hotels. The distrust and disgust Lucas faces, not only from the police but from his friends and other locals, only adds to the story and the closeness of the community of El Morro.

I did really like this book, it was a very quick read for me but every last page was enjoyable and it was a unique concept which I loved. Granted I wasn’t keen on some of the character development but the local tales and myths which Mabry wove throughout her story seemed to make the city of El Morro come alive on the page.

What did you think of A Fierce and Subtle Poison? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.

All quotes have been taken from an ARC and may differ in the final publication.


16 thoughts on “ARC Review: A Fierce and Subtle Poison

  1. Nice review!
    I am such a fan of magical realism so this book is up my alley and after reading your review I REALLY WANT TO READ THIS BOOK for the magical elements. Isabel seems like such an intriguing character but your thoughts on Lucas….I really dislike flat characters Hahahaha. I might just give this book a go though, but now I’m a bit on the fence 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Astra!
      I’ve only recently got into the magical realism genre but it’s becoming a fast favourite of mine, especially after some of the books I’ve read as well 🙂
      Like I said in the review I loved Isabel’s character and the story itself. I think on his own Lucas wasn’t a terrible character, it’s just that he didn’t seem to connect with any of the other characters in a way that felt real, I hope that makes sense 🙂


    1. Thanks so much Marie 😀
      It is an amazing concept, so unique, and I loved the story. I haven’t read much in the magical realism genre (I think it’s a pretty new one!?) but I really enjoyed AFaSP.
      Yeah it was mainly what I said about Lucas’s characters, he himself was well developed but not the relationships he had with the other characters. It kind of let the story down a little and when the book is told solely in Lucas’s POV I just couldn’t seem to get past it :/

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My favourite magical realism books I’ve read so far has been Bone Gap, that was brilliant I can’t even begin to describe it!
        Yeah, the main character, especially in first person POVs, does play a massive role in whether I like book or not!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh man I can’t even begin to tell you how badly you NEED to read Bone Gap! It was one of my favourite books I read last year and it’s the book that actually made me love magical realism as a genre. It definitely as brilliant as it sounds 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yeah it is kind of expensive, I have it pre-ordered on paperback for when it’s released so I can get it as soon as. Ahh I am so excited for you to read this book, you’ll have to let me know what you think as soon as you finish it!

        Liked by 1 person

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