I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the content of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Inkyard Press (6 Dec 2022)
Length: 400 pages
At first I didn’t know what to expect when I picked it up Poison season, but I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would. A light fantasy romance with a hint of a fairy tale takes place in a remote forest where a small island rests in the middle of a poisonous lake. No one really knows how the waters became poisoned, but it will kill anything that tries to cross it.
But the lake also protects those who live on an island called Endla. Born and raised there, Leelo had spent her whole life hearing stories about how dangerous the outsiders were and how they would destroy her home if they had the chance. The Endlans have created a culture around song and use the magic in their singing to communicate with forest creatures as well as manipulate the human mind. With these abilities, they also bring sacrifices to the island and guard it against alien intrusions.
But the risks don’t just come from the outside. The Endlans are so protective of their secrets that they even banish their own people if they don’t show an aptitude for magic by their twelfth birthday. Unfortunately, Leelo’s younger brother is considered non-magical and is set to be banished, causing her and their mother no small amount of grief. In her grief, Leelo goes to be alone by the lake and spies a young man on the other shore. Despite being an outsider, she waves to him.
Jaren is from a nearby village who never believed in magic before he and his family moved here, but he quickly realizes that there is more to Endle than meets the eye. One day, while escaping from an unnaturally cruel wolf, Jaren tries to cross the lake to an island in desperation and almost drowns. He is saved by a pale-haired girl whom he recognizes as the one who waved at him. But he doesn’t realize that by saving him, Leelo has put them both in danger. Because her duty as a watcher was to kill every stranger she came across, and if she was found harboring Jaren, the consequences could be fatal for her.
I loved it Poison season it never tries to be more than it is, a quality that’s actually quite refreshing in a YA novel. The gist of the premise is simple and the scope of the world building small, but fascinating and satisfying. The whole story takes place around a poisonous lake and the lore around it has the atmosphere of a dark fairy tale.
This loose approach also means more time and attention to character development. Leelo is a protagonist that the reader can sympathize with and relate to – headstrong and determined, but still seen as too soft by her aunt and cousin as they see weakness in Leelo’s refusal to sacrifice animals or even in her love for her brother who he will soon be exiled. . Readers immediately learn that the Endlans are a tough people. They do what needs to be done to survive and protect their way of life from outsiders. Of course, Leelo has a more contemplative side and doesn’t fit in, no doubt making her a bit of an outsider.
It made the resulting romance between her and Jaren that much more believable and natural. It was a love story that I found sweet and captivating. Just as the main plot was a slowburn, so was the romance arc. The dual POVs of Leelo and Jaren allowed readers to see both sides of the relationship to see how their feelings for each other evolved. Overall I thought it was a well written romance that had real chemistry.
All in all, this was an uncomplicated but enjoyable novel of magic and romance that had the seductive quality of a fairy tale. I can count on one hand the number of young adult books I’ve read in 2022, but I’m glad that Poison season he was one of them.