The Poison Diaries: Nightshade
In the aftermath of the first Poison Diaries volume, lovers Weed and Jessamine are separated, wandering England and battling their own guilt and remorse. Jessamine learns the truth of her father’s crimes and strikes out to find a new life far from his insidious influence. Weed, feeling unworthy of Jessamine now that he has become a murderer and an outlaw, seeks refuge in the forest but finds that even the peaceful company of plants – with which he has always had a mysterious affinity – offers little solace. Meanwhile Oleander, the malevolent Prince of Poisons, delights in leading the lovers astray and revels in his growing power.
This second volume in the series is ever more disconnected than the first. The two separate narratives – Jessamine’s trials when her medicinal knowledge brings her under suspicion of witchcraft, Weed’s journey to Italy to find the renowned Orto botanico – seem only vaguely related. Jessamine is far too easily corrupted, tempted into infidelity and worse, while Weed remains almost implausibly chaste and single-minded. And the villain, the Prince of Poisons, is completely inscrutable. The plot line rests on the vague idea that Oleander “wants the world to know his might,” but that wasn’t enough motivation to make me buy into the story.
The tragedy is that Maryrose Wood’s language is lovely, and the historical elements – the use of plants in poisons and medicines, the English court’s trip to Italy to cure the dreaded syphilis – offer rich ground to explore. But alas, the story just doesn’t come together. Don’t pick up this book unless you are prepared for a fantasy well removed from any historical context – and unless you have read the earlier volume first, to give you a foothold in the strange and shifting world the author has created.