2022’s This Poison Heart is the first volume in Kalynn Bayron’s This Poison Heart series.
Teenage Briseis Greene struggles with unremarkable grades in school, familial money worries (the rent for her adopted parents’ flower store is being hiked), and her fear that she will be outed. She has a special talent: she can make plants grow. She’s still learning to control her gift and others might suspect that something odd is happening if plants were to thrive in unnatural profusion.
Distraction for such worries comes in the form of an unexpected inheritance.
Briseis is contacted by lawyer Melissa Redmond. Briseis’ aunt Circe Colchis, Briseis’ last living relative, is dead. Circe left Briseis a mansion and the forty acres around it, as well as a trust sufficient to support the estate1.
Briseis and her two adoptive mothers decamp for upstate New York to have a look at Briseis’ new property. Although in dire need of a thorough decluttering and cleaning, the mansion is impressive. All that remains is for the family to familiarize themselves with the no doubt quirky people living in and around Rhinebeck.
Initial encounters suggest that Rhinebeck’s inhabitants are less “quirky” and more “creepy and menacing.” It seems that Circe and her sister Selene were quite well known before they were murdered (Circe) and disappeared under mysterious circumstances (Selene). The friends, acquaintances, and enemies that Circe and Selene left behind are quite interested in the new inhabitants of the mansion.
Some of the visitors urge Briseis to continue the family apothecary business. The mansion grounds contain a well-secured garden full of medicinal plants. Briseis also finds letters in the mansion, letters explaining that Circe and Selene shared Briseis’ gift for horticulture. Surely she can take over as if nothing had happened….
But it’s not just customers wanting salves and potions. It soon becomes apparent that some are looking for the treasure that the Colchis family has guarded for millennia, since the time of Greek myth. Those who want the treasure will stop at nothing to gain it.
If Briseis cannot be duped into handing over the treasure? Well, her mothers are ideal hostages….
If I ever do “five books with alarming age differences between the teen lead and their much older romantic interest” for Tor, I need to include this novel. Although it’s not as bad as it sounds. It’s Briseis who has fixated on someone who is centuries older.
“But her adventures were only beginning” warning. This volume is the set up for an ongoing series, so the ending doesn’t offer a complete closure. It’s mostly an enticement to seek out the next book. That said, the book isn’t a cliffhanger; there’s a complete story, not a fragment of a larger work.
You will have recognized the character names as names from Greek myth. The surname is also a hint. Colchis was the hometown of the mythological witch Medea; Greek names plus Colchis surname is a blinking arrow pointing at a witchy family. You’d think that they would switch to names like “Betty Jones” but no … there are reasons2.
This novel hit all the notes currently fashionable for modern fantasies aimed at a particular audience (which I have to admit is not me). The characters are a bit flat, but sufficient for the novel’s needs. That’s the word: sufficient. The novel is workmanlike but not any better than that. I was also put off by the unsubtle names.
No doubt, as with next Sunday’s book, I am in the minority here. If this is the kind of thing you like, you probably won’t be disappointed.
1: Circe has been missing for some time (thus no attempt to contact Briseis) and only now legally presumed dead.
2: Preserving the family name and traditions for thousands of years may seem an almost impossible task but as it turns out, there are factors at play that help the Colchis family keep focused.