Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood: of passions, poisons and the power of plants

A dark, gothic tale of romance… and murder. In the right dose, everything is a poison. Jessamine has spent her whole life in a cottage close to her father’s apothecary garden, surrounded by medicinal plants and herbs that could kill her — although her father has never allowed her into the most dangerous part of the grounds… the poison garden. And so she’s never had reason to be afraid — until now. Because now a newcomer has come to live with the family, a quiet but strangely attractive orphan boy named Weed. Though Weed doesn’t say much in words, he has an instant talent for the apothecary’s trade, seeming to possess a close bond with the plants of the garden. Soon, he and Jessamine also share a close bond. But little does Jessamine know that passion can be just as poisonous as the deadliest plants in the garden — for behind Weed’s instinctive way in the garden is a terrible secret.

I picked up this book during a visit to Alnwick Gardens in Northumberland, which also includes the famous Poison Garden, as I simply couldn’t resist the cover, or indeed the concept of poison. At the time I had no idea it was supposed to be a Young Adult book, and actually I think it’s very much one which should easily be hugely enjoyed by not so young adults too. This adult certainly loved it.

We’re pitched right into the gothic world of Jessamine, who lives with her father in Alnwick where they’re cut off from all neighbours but in charge of a garden full of medicinal and poisonous plants. Jessamine’s father practises as a healer and is much in demand. He is also a man of many secrets whose work takes him away from his daughter, leaving her with a variety of questions he cannot, or will not, answer.

Into this increasingly dark and pressurised mix comes the gifted orphan, Weed. Jessamine is fascinated by him and takes it upon herself to introduce him to the everyday life she leads. This we see as she continues to write her diary which makes up a significant part of the novel, and very subtly, the two of them fall in love:

I skim my fingertips around Weed’s face as if I were blind. I trace the curved dark eyebrows, the firm cheekbone underneath the petal-soft skin. My lips move towards his as a bee to a flower, eager to taste.

This brings the whole narrative brew to a veritable boiling point as Jessamine’s father, jealous of Weed’s gifts, uses his daughter’s affections to his advantage. At the same time, Weed is aware of the growing threat of the poison garden all around them:

‘The forests, the fields, the moss that grows on the rocks – none of them are happy about that garden. Nature would have kept those plants safely apart, scattered over the continents, separated by oceans. But your father has summoned them from the corners of the earth and locked them together, side by side, hidden behind walls, where they can grow in secret. It is wrong, Jessamine – I fear it is dangerous.’

The magic and mystery of plants is very much an integral part of this novel, and also provides a light element of fantasy, particularly in the sections where Jessamine becomes ill and in the dreams/nightmares she experiences. At the same time, Weed is determined to save her and uses his strange ability to communicate with nature in order to bargain for her life. I did enjoy the sections where, for the first time, we see Weed’s voice, as Jessamine is unable to keep up her diary. It was good to have the novel expanded a little at that point, and the contrast between the two voices is a refreshing one.

In addition, the language of the book is rich and dark and really rather wonderful:

The sun warms the skin and melts the heart, and everything grows with abandon. Roots stretch deep in the earth to satisfy their thirst. Stalks race upward, propelled by joy. Leaves flutter and dance, buds swell and shameless blossoms unfurl and offer themselves freely to the sky.

Gripping stuff and gripping language indeed. Really I couldn’t put it down and I was well on the way to giving this novel top marks if, dammit, it hadn’t been for the rather too melodramatic (though still interesting) way the latter sections were written. I think this part of the story should have been edited with a view to less is more, as the rest of the novel does take that approach and very effectively, allowing the mystique and subtlety to act as a powerful draw, so it’s a shame these final scenes are rather overegged.

The end page however, plus the hugely difficult decisions Weed has to make, the sudden thrilling voice of the poison garden itself, the knowledge of what Jessamine’s father has or may have actually done, and Jessamine’s closing few words are simply perfect. So, in spite of that very slight caveat, I was thrilled to see that the author plans to make a trilogy of this story. Frankly this is good stuff and I can’t wait for Part Two. In the meantime you can create your very own Poison Diary here at a very beautiful website. Enjoy!

The Poison Diaries, HarperCollins 2010, ISBN: 978 0 00 735443 6

[Anne would love to have a poison garden but fears her husband might not allow it. You can also find out more about her other dark and dangerous pursuits.]

About annebrooke

Anne Brooke lives in Surrey, UK, and writes in a variety of genres, including gay erotic romance, fantasy, comedy, thrillers, biblical fiction and the occasional chicklit novel. When not writing, she spends time in the garden attempting to differentiate between flowers and weeds, and in the allotment attempting to grow vegetables. Occasionally, she can also be found in the kitchen making cakes. Every now and again, they are edible. Her websites can be found at:,, and (for fantasy fiction).

6 comments on “The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood: of passions, poisons and the power of plants

  1. Nikki
    November 4, 2010

    This sounds great! Thanks for a great review, Anne. And for the link to the website, I just spent a happy fifteen minutes browsing that!

  2. annebrooke
    November 4, 2010

    Isn’t the website great! And the book’s even better 🙂

  3. Jackie
    November 4, 2010

    Your review had subtle humor woven through what sounds like a serious book. Nicely done! I was reminded of your recent trip to Alnwick Gardens as soon as I saw the title. The book sounds mysterious, yet intriguing & has an unusual topic.
    That cover is really something, isn’t it? I studied it for a few minutes before reading the review. It’s very moody and arty, not to mention, compelling.

  4. Moira
    November 5, 2010

    I loved the sound of this book as soon as I rerad the synopsis and saw the cover … and when I found that gorgeous website when I was doing a bit of research for the ‘Coming Up Post’, I was hooked. And now your review is just the final nail in the coffin, really. Bang goes my vow not to spend any more money on books …

  5. Lisa
    November 5, 2010

    Every now and then VL will review a book that makes me think “Damn, I really wish I had written that,” and this is one of those. Poison gardens sound fascinating, and the author seems to have woven a spellbinding story around such a garden. My writer self is green with envy. Gorgeous cover too. Am off to check out the website. Lovely review, Anne.

  6. Anne brooke
    November 5, 2010

    Thanks, all. Its certainly a wonderful book!

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