An Affair of Poisons is all action from the very beginning. It’s a book about family, taking a stand, and self-acceptance. This book is about realizing that intentions matter, realizing that our inventions have consequences, and finding the strength to fix our mistakes.
After unwittingly helping her mother poison King Louis XIV, seventeen-year-old alchemist Mirabelle Monvoisin is forced to see her mother’s Shadow Society in a horrifying new light: they’re not heroes of the people, as they’ve always claimed to be, but murderers. Herself included. Mira tries to ease her guilt by brewing helpful curatives, but her hunger tonics and headache remedies cannot right past wrongs or save the dissenters her mother vows to purge.
Royal bastard Josse de Bourbon is more kitchen boy than fils de France. But when the Shadow Society assassinates the Sun King and half the royal court, he must become the prince he was never meant to be in order to save his injured sisters and the petulant Dauphin. Forced to hide in the derelict sewers beneath the city, any hope of reclaiming Paris seems impossible—until Josse’s path collides with Mirabelle’s, and he finds a surprising ally in his sworn enemy.
She’s a deadly poisoner. He’s a bastard prince. Together, they form a tenuous pact to unite the commoners and former nobility against the Shadow Society. But can a rebellion built on mistrust ever hope to succeed?
(Disclaimer: I received this free book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
An Affair of Poisons is this historical fantasy mixture combining historical detail and simmering revolution, with smoke creatures and alchemy. One of the central issues within the book is when our good intentions go astray. Science and innovation are powerful forces to behold. But it’s terrifying to witness our own creations turned not only against us, but against our very intentions. Even more than that, An Affair of Poisons grapples with the idea of limiting ourselves and of defying everything around us, to become who we truly are.
What I loved in An Affair of Poisons is how rich each of the characters are. From the side characters of Mirabelle’s siblings, all the way to our main characters. Both Mirabelle and Josse are so starved of acceptance, but they’ve reacted in different ways: fierce commitment to pleasing her mother, and making his father see him even as he defies him. Yet their friendship brings out their strength to not only see beyond the cage of expectations, but to also realize their own potential. Even within the side characters, there’s depth and while not everything is explained, you can tell these characters are just begging to speak, if only they had a moment.
I wish we were able to see more of the relationship between Mirabelle and her sister, but I am overjoyed that we are able to witness Josse and all his siblings. There is such a delicate tension between Josse and his half brother made up of resentment, grudges, and, possibly, also hope. Josse’s motivation stems from his love for his sisters, but also his desire for them not to grow up like the spoiled aristocracy. While seeing the disdain some of the courtiers have for servants, a role Josse is relegated to, Josse still is, in some ways, unable to see his own privilege compared to Mirabelle.
And both Josse and Mirabelle struggle with sacrifice. For Josse, are the lives of his sisters, his family, worth the death of innocent lives? Exactly what are our main characters, and actually everyone in the book, willing to sacrifice to fulfill their ambition? To protect their own loved ones? Amidst a revolution, an uprising of the people, and with a magical seemingly unbeatable power, these issues are brought to the forefront for both Josse and Mirabelle.
What I really appreciate about An Affair of Poisons is how Josse and Mirabelle struggle with both similar and completely different issues. They both struggle with family, but in Josse’s case his half brother, where as for Mirabelle her mother’s hold on her. At the same time, Mirabelle feels the guilt and responsibility for some of the magical power. But also her responsibility to the people suffering around her as she has both the potential for damage and healing. And Josse has to explore his relationship with his absent father and the type of person he wishes to be.
The greater good is thrown around numerous times in An Affair of Poisons. Because I think only someone invested in helping, in good intentions, becomes torn apart by guilt. For some of the characters in the book they are easily able to rationalize their actions. This person deserved to die. Or this action is necessary for the greater good. But for those who love and trust the choice isn’t so easy. Would you really be willing to sacrifice a loved one for the innocent lives of many? Throughout An Affair of Poisons our beloved characters struggle with exactly that – determining what is right, and, most importantly, what to do afterwards.