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Literature / Poison

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Real life is a story, too, only much more complicated.

A dark young adult fantasy novel by Chris Wooding, author of the Broken Sky series and The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray. It revolves around Poison, a restless and cynic young girl living in the dismal swamps of Gull. While she doesn't fit in with the other children or get along with her new stepmother, at least she has her little sister, least until The Fair Folk spirit the baby away on Poison's birthday, leaving a changeling in its place. With the help of an eccentric old storyteller, Poison leaves both her home and the mortal world in a quest to rescue Azalea from the Phaerie Lord, making allies and enemies along the way.

Of course, that isn't even the half of it. Upon arriving in the world of the Phaeries, Poison finds herself embroiled in a conspiracy concerning the fate of both realms - one in which she has a much bigger role to play...


Tropes featured include:

  • And Man Grew Proud: Humans have been forced to live in the swamps and mountains after constant warfare divided them, making them weak to attack by the phaeries.
  • Author Powers: The Hierophant has them, and is able to control all of the realms. And even create new ones.
  • Badass Normal: Bram and Fleet.
  • Big Bad: Aelthar initially.
  • Big Sister Instinct: The initial trigger for the plot. Poison spent the majority of the novel trying to rescue her little sister. She later develops this for Peppercorn.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Lady Asinastra of the Spiders. They are described as large black pearls. Anytime Poison meets her, she's paralyzed by her gaze.
  • Bubblegloop Swamp: Gull.
    • Everything Trying to Kill You: The water is full of man-eating fish, most of the flora and fauna are poisonous, and did we mention the myriad of fatal diseases? Almost half of the population doesn't make it out of childhood.
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  • Cats Are Superior: Peppercorn's cat, Andersen. Him possibly being from the Phaerie Realm may have something to do with it.
  • Cool Old Guy: Bram, an ordinary human merchant who risks certain death several times to protect Poison, and Fleet, the hermit in Gull who regales stories of his (probably true) exploits in the world beyond in addition to being an agent of the Hierophant.
  • Creative Sterility: Which is why Phaeries can't become the Hierophant, and why Humans Are Special.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: A teenage girl leaves home to rescue her younger sibling from a ruler of a magical kingdom. Can anyone say Labyrinth?
  • Dragon Ascendant: Aelthar was plotting to have the Hierophant murdered and put Scriddle in his place as a puppet ruler, but Scriddle ended up taking things into his own hands...
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Poison herself.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: A couple of antagonists care very much about someone in their twisted lives.
    • Maeb the Bone Witch freaks out and promises to kill Poison and her friends when she realizes that her pet dogs are dead.
    • Asinastra the Lady of Cobwebs loves her unborn baby. When she learned that Poison stole her dagger to save her sister, she decided to spare her for the time being since she understands love for a family member.
  • Fantastic Racism: Most of the otherworldly creatures are indifferent towards humans, with the exception of Aelthar and his Phaeries. It's quickly made clear that, should his plans succeed, his first course of action will be to completely wipe them out.
  • Fiery Redhead: Aelthar, the Phaerie Lord.
  • Foil: Poison and Peppercorn. One is dark, snarky, and distrusting of everything; the other is bright, cheerful, and innocent. Despite the fact that Poison finds Peppercorn's naivete a little annoying, they end up friends, probably because Peppercorn doesn't judge anyone.
  • Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: Bram gives Poison a very stern talking to after she discovers that she's a creation of the Hierophant. She spends the next few days in bed and not eating a single meal. However, what she doesn't realize (until Bram brings it up) is that the world is crumbling around her and the people she cares about are dying.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Peppercorn.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Scriddle, the Phaerie Lord's secretary, is half-human and half-Phaerie. The whole reason that Aelthar has been abducting children is for this purpose, as only someone with human blood can take the Hierophant's throne.
  • Hellhound: Maeb has two, of the hunter type. They can't smell, but they have enhanced sight and hearing to make up for Maeb being both blind and deaf.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Maeb eats people. She's called the Bone Witch because she especially favors their bones.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: Peppercorn.
  • Made a Slave: Peppercorn is forced to work for Maeb on pain of being eaten if she disobeys.
  • Meaningful Rename: Children in the swamps are allowed to pick a name for themselves at a certain age. While she was born Foxglove, Poison chose her new name specifically to spite Snapdragon, who had said that she'd always be poison to the family.
  • Missed Her by That Much: Just as Poison and Bram enter Shieldtown, they meet a young girl going the other way. At the end of the book, Poison discovers that the girl was actually Azalea, who had been aged up and sent back home by the phaeries.
  • Rage Against the Author: When Poison learns that her entire life was fabricated by the Hierophant, she attempts to defy him by not getting involved with the phaeries any further. This will kill her, but she doesn't care - at least, not until she discovers that Bram and Peppercorn will also die, as their characters revolve around her.
  • Reality-Writing Book: Type 3. The Hierophant and his Antiquarians take down the stories of various mortals, although what they write isn't visible to mortal eyes until it's been finished, and it can be changed or even stopped entirely by important events. Unlike other examples of this trope, they don't follow the people through their entire lives - Poison at one point comes across the tale of a war hero who fought against the Phaeries; it ends on a "to be continued" note rather than his actual death, because the latter wouldn't be as interesting. One person can also have multiple books depending on the tone of the story (coming of age, romance, etc).
  • Rewriting Reality: The Hierophant. Phaeries don't choose to follow his rules, they have to.
  • Scary Scarecrows: The Scarecrow, a high-ranking servant of the Phaerie Lord who is responsible for kidnapping children, and possesses a magical dust that both puts people to sleep and plays tricks on the mind. He's also capable of traveling through his picture in a book.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Snapdragon to Poison, but slightly justified in that Poison is equally antagonistic to her. Not only does she feel like Snapdragon is trying to replace her birth mother, but she's doing it in a way that Poison absolutely can't stand - just sitting around and tolerating life in the swamp, when it's clear that she wants (and could be) something more.
  • Wicked Witch: Maeb, the Bone Witch, who guards one of the pathways between the human world and the Phaerie Realm.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: You can try, but the results won't be pretty. Poison learns firsthand when her refusal to stop the Phaerie Lord results in everyone first getting horrifically ill and then beginning to fade out of existence.