Title: Poison Princess (The Arcana Chronicles #1)
Author: Kresley Cole
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books
Rating: 4/5 Stars
One of my very good friends was super excited to read this book and did NOT like it, so I approached it with trepidation. I’m pleased to report that despite a few minor annoyances, Poison Princess did not disappoint.
I haven’t read any of Kresley Cole’s other novels, but I went into this book well aware of her status as a published and popular author and her experience and skill as a writer was evident from the first page. Cole created a very vivid and lush world – both before and after the Flash – for her hero and heroine. Her characters are fully realized and real, with strengths and weaknesses that help and hinder them along the way.
Evie is an interesting heroine in that she embodies a lot of qualities – ultra feminine, shallow, materialistic and prejudice – that I wouldn’t normally gravitate toward, but Cole doesn’t turn her into a caricature. I understand her prejudices against Jackson and the other Cajuns when they suddenly transfer to her ultra-posh high school – she’s not looking to hate them, but they come with violent and scary reputations that they promptly proceed to live up to.
Evie is aware of how shallow and vain she can be, not to mention the fact that she thoroughly enjoys the creature comforts of her life at Haven House, but she’s constantly at war with a feeling that she should be striving for more. What I might normally find grating or annoying becomes understandable in light of the fact that she’s just returned from 2-3 months in an insane asylum, questioning her sanity. At the beginning of the story, Evie is craving normalcy and I applaud Cole for not making her apologize for that.
After the Flash, as Evie’s psychic/supernatural abilities continue to flourish, she balks against what she feels is her destiny. This is another thing that I would normally be annoyed with, but again, the way Cole handles Evie’s character, everything makes sense. While she’s not interested in joining in on the battle of the Major Arcana, she’s also driven by a need to know who and what she is and willingly runs toward the battle in the name of the people she loves.
Jackson Deveaux is a pretty typical bad boy, although I loved the added details of the scars on his knuckles from the fights that he’s been in and the fact that he has earned his reputation. He’s not some misunderstood hero with a heart of gold who gained his reputation by fighting for the underdog. He’s got a temper, he’s violent, he’s rude and crass, and as much as he’s drawn to Evie – and vice versa – he really doesn’t like her much. That mutual antagonism provided the perfect breeding ground for a slow-building, passionate romance.
After the Flash, Jackson rises to the occasion and the survival instincts that got him into trouble in civilized Louisiana society serve him and Evie well. Poison Princess is about so much more than the romance between this good girl/bad boy duo, but it progresses steadily throughout the novel so that by the end I could tell that while they still drive each other – and me – a little crazy, they’re no longer denying the connection they share.
The one problem that I have with Jackson Deveaux – other than his love of Ducati’s – is that Cole writes his dialogue almost phonetically. It’s really annoying and pulled me out of the story a lot. I finally just stopped paying attention to the bad grammar, ‘doan’s’ instead of don’t, and the oddly placed ‘me’s’ and you’s’. I assume Cole chose to write him this way to add color to her narrative and while I enjoyed the French Cajun that got thrown in from time to time, I could have done without the phonetically written speech patterns. It’s just not necessary and comes across as pretentious. I get that Jackson is ‘other’, but Cole could have made the same point strictly by utilizing the French Cajun. Aside from a California surfer boy – who’s biggest offense is uttering ‘dude’ too many times – who shows up toward the end of the book, Jackson was the only character who didn’t speak perfect English. This served to set him exaggerate how unlike the other characters he is – and not in a good way. Evie’s reluctance to share who and what she’s starting to think she is already puts Jackson squarely in the ‘outsider’ column. Cole’s choice to have him speak the way he does just made it worse.
Poison Princess begins nine months after the Flash and puts Evie in an immediately dangerous position. Whenever the story lagged – and as much as I enjoyed it overall, the post-Flash/pre-Jackson period dragged on too long – the promise of finding out how Evie ends up in danger kept me turning pages.
Cole doles out her information about Evie’s destiny judiciously and hits that sweet spot where just when the questions were about to drive me crazy, she put a few puzzle pieces in to keep my curiosity sated.
Poison Princess is very definitely the first in a series. While Cole gives us answers, the book does not end in a place of peace and calm – everyone’s fate is in question as well as Evie and Jackson’s relationship. Overall, the story had a rich plot, fully fleshed out characters, a marvelous and horrifying dystopic world and enough intrigue to reel me in and leave me excited for the next installment.