I bought this book under the impression that it was an older, more grown up version of Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder (a book I loved). And that’s what it was, in a way. But it was so much more. It was a murder mystery spanning across 15th century Rome, it was a quest that resembled that of Angels and Demons, it was the story of a girl, too smart for her own good, on a mission to save the city.
Poison by Sara Poole
While I loved Poison Study for it’s strong female heroine, Yelena, she quickly went from strong and independent, to ridiculous and bossy. Her stunts evolved from “teenage girl standing up for herself” to “Daniel Craig as James Bond” and her character became entirely unbelievable and, honestly, unlikeable. Poison’s heroine, Francesca, is everything I wished Yelena would have been. She’s strong, she’s smart, and she can easily take care of herself but she’s not using martial arts or magic powers to do so. She’s just the poisoner’s daughter; an ordinary girl who has spent her entire life learning the art of poison making and detection. A skill that would both condemn her and save her life… as well as her city.
When we first meet Francesca she has just poisoned and killed the newly appointed poisoner, angry that she had not been asked to step up after her father’s murder. It’s a bold move, one that could get her thrown in prison, but her master, Borgia, is impressed by her cunning. He appoints her his official poisoner and instructs her to finish what her father had started; kill the pope. It’s a mission that will take her across the crumbling yet magnificent city of Rome; into the Jewish ghetto, through the secret passages of the castel, under the basilica into the twisting labyrinth of an old Roman empire, and to the top of the Vatican.
During her quest she faces life threatening betrayal and decisions that could change the entire fate of Rome, if not her own fate. She yearns to avenge her father and protect those she loves. All the while she must face the difficulties of being a woman in Rome; a woman doing a man’s job, a woman in a world ruled by men. She is forced to face truths about her own heritage and learns to accept, even befriend, people she would have looked down on before. The entire fate of Rome rests of her shoulders.
I loved almost everything about this book; it was a page turner, it was full of riddles, it had a likeable and strong lead character, it had romance and danger and long, dark, twisting hallways… but overall the writing was a little bland. Francesca seems pretty detached from everything going on around her, we don’t get a lot of emotion out of her and the author doesn’t supply us with a lot of description. The story is written from Francesca’s point of view, almost as if she’s writing in a journal or relating her story to a few avid listeners. Oftentimes she’ll take an aside from the story and address the reader directly. It made her seem a little robotic. I suppose, as a poisoner, she is forced to keep herself emotionally distanced… Nonetheless I would recommend this book to any lovers of historical fiction and fans of Dan Brown. Will I read the sequel? Absolutely.