Kresley Cole, Poison Princess

The themes this novel is playing with are going to sound familiar –

She wants desperately to be a normal girl, though she is troubled by bad dreams. When she was young, her grandmother first kidnapped her and then was sent to the insane asylum. But when the apocalypse comes, she discovers that her dreams were prophetic. And she has other powers – the ability to make plants grow, in what is now a dry and hungry land. She needs to find her grandmother, who may be able to tell her what is going on, but the trip from Louisiana to North Carolina is now as good as suicidal. But a boy she felt an attraction to (but couldn’t really have much to do with, in her old high school) shows up unexpectedly and offers to help, so she sets forth on a journey that will reveal who – and what – she really is. Though judging by her nightmares, she really doesn’t want to know.

Here we have the typical elements of YA dystopian fiction – a world gone awry, a heroine with special gifts, a male sidekick/love interest, and a mystery that rapidly turns into a deadly dangerous quest. We even have another common theme – a winner-takes-all competition that can have only one survivor. However, Kresley Cole instantiates all these elements in a rather distinctive way, starting with the initial setting of the book (rural Louisiana, complete with Anglo prejudice against Cajuns) and continuing as she develops her world’s distinctive elements – a hidden society in which the gifted few instantiate a mythic image from the Tarot deck and have matching magical abilities. It’s also rather interesting to have a protagonist who is very, very, relatable, but who will almost certainly die unless she embraces a monstrous power.

I liked it. However, it’s the first book in a series, so it has some of the attendant limitations. The main character’s journey has only just begun by the end of the book, and her fate is still very much undecided, so my reaction to the whole will really depend on how the later volumes play out. But it’s a very solid start to what may turn out to be an interesting take on the YA dystopian heroine.

Note: I got a signed copy of this book for free at Book Expo America. I have no other connection with the publisher.

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