I had the opportunity to read a digital-ARC of this book, provided by NetGalley.com. There's a lot of action packed into this story of a seventeen-year-old boy, Lucas, whose father is a big-shot developer of resort hotels in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Every summer, Lucas comes to the island to live in his father's hotel and hang around with his friends in the old, touristy part of the city. He's a bit of a party-boy who drinks with his friends and finds pretty girls to make out with on the beach.
In the neighborhood streets near the hotel, there's a house around which many rumors have swirled through the years. The legends center around a cursed girl, Isabel. The local senoras tell stories about a witch with green skin and grass for hair. They say the girl eats the exotic, poisonous plants that fill the courtyard garden. Many believe that her touch can kill and that she can grant wishes.
One popular story tells of a tiny kitten who fell victim to this witch's poison:
"A tiny kitten, its eyes barely open, got separated from its mother and found itself alone on the sidewalk in front of the courtyard. The kitten mewed and mewed all night. The next morning someone found it curled up into a ball, dead from chewing on a leaf that had fallen from one of the tall bushes. 'Everybody knows,' Carlos (a friend of Lucas) claimed, 'that the plants in that courtyard are full of poison. If you touch them, they'll make your nightmares come true. Then you'll burn with fever. Then you'll die.'
Lucas has always been fascinated by these stories and is drawn to the fantasy of Isabel and her magic. On the same day his new girlfriend, Marisol, disappears he begins receiving mysterious letters. Lucas goes to the cursed house to find answers and finds himself swept into Isabel's dangerous world of poison: her dangerous touch combined with the toxic relationship with her father, a renowned botanist.
This novel has lots of action, interesting characters and an exotic setting to draw readers into this story. I enjoyed being brought into the world of Old San Juan's tourist areas, as I visited this city on a cruise a few years ago.
The combination of mystery and magic along with the suspense of solving the disappearance of local girls before time runs out makes this book a real page-turner. The author includes several steamy romance scenes, dangerous storms, and dramatic events. However, as Lucas became more deeply involved in Isabel's world, the story becomes somewhat confusing. Characters' motives are complicated and it begins to feel like there are so many storms, dangerous bouts of poison-induced sickness, and chases around the island that the author's message gets lost in all of the action.
Lucas seems to be affected by all that is occurring around him. We get the sense that he will turn from his party-boy ways to become someone more thoughtful and caring. But there's a lot to go through to get to that point.
A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry
Hardcover, 288 pages
Expected publication: April 12, 2016 by Algonquin Young Readers