When I read Beth Fish’s wonderful review of this book about two weeks ago, I knew I couldn’t pass it up. Not realizing it was a YA title, it arrived from the library and I happily sat down with it one afternoon and didn’t look up until it was finished. It was a strangely quixotic and utterly engulfing read that I have a feeling will impress both younger and older readers alike, and I enjoyed the brisk pace of the book in addition to its style, which was similar to a fairy tale. As I wound my way deeper and deeper into the story, I felt as though I knew what was coming, but the fact that I could spot the villain didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the tale at all. I credit this to the book’s deftness for keeping its readers caught in an unfamiliar world, where magic and mystery walk hand in hand.
There are really two different plot conceits going on in this tale, and both were enriching in different ways. On the one hand, there’s the blossoming romance between the neglected Jessamine and the unwanted Weed; on the other, there’s the notorious secret that’s locked behind the gates of the poison garden. As both of these plot elements mature and begin to twist around each other, there’s a deep romantic and tragic resonance that gains strength and is expertly built upon by the author. This isn't the sort of story that the reader can remain disengaged from for very long, and because of its tender representations of young love and dastardly misdeeds, it’s a book that will keep readers racing through the pages to discover what the final outcome will be. The book doesn’t present the reader with a story that can be kept at a distance, choosing instead to keep the characters’ interactions and the secrets of the villain and the garden very tightly enmeshed.
Two things I liked most were the imagery that was such a focal point of the story and the fluidity of the writing style. This was a book that was almost effortless to read, and stylistically, the story was arranged in a way that kept me on tenterhooks wondering where it would go next, replete with a gnawing sense of tension and anticipation. The story is somewhat timeless, and though the book exists in a historical time frame, the protagonists and their feelings echo what today’s young adults might feel if they were falling in love for the first time and were somewhat removed from the influencing aspects of society. There was also a tremendous gentleness in this love story, and the way it was juxtaposed with the evilness of the antagonists seemed perfectly balanced and scrupulously created a sense of the forces of darkness being pitted against the forces of light.
When I quickly got to the end of the book, I groaned aloud, for this volume is the first installment of a trilogy. This frustrated me because I wanted a more full resolution and conclusion, not just a stopping point. I was also unhappy that my library doesn’t carry the second book and I’m going to have to go out and purchase it to find out where the tale goes. This development made me a little frustrated, but also excited that there will be future installments. Beth Fish has already reviewed the second book, called Nightshade, and I can say that I’m really eager to find out what’s next in store for the characters I’ve grown attached to.
This book was surprisingly complex while remaining streamlined and compact, and I enjoyed the journey that it took me on. As I mentioned before, this is a book that will entangle readers of all ages from adolescent onwards. The book is like a wonderful confection, in that it’s very easy to gobble up all at once and leave you hungering for more. I’m thankful that I read this one and will be able to pass it to my daughter, who I think will love it too. A very diverting read that has innocence shot through with touches of raw darkness. Recommended.