________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 10 . . . . November 11, 2016


A Little Taste of Poison.

R. J. Anderson.
New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Distributed in Canada by Simon & Schuster), 2016.
362 pp., hardcover & eBook, $23.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-4814-3774-5 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4814-3776-9 (eBook).

Subject Headings:
Schools-Juvenile fiction.
Murder-Juvenile fiction.
Social classes-Juvenile fiction.
Magic-Juvenile fiction.
Mystery and detective stories.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Rob Bittner.

***½ /4



"As I'm sure you're aware, there are people in our city with a history of lawless behavior, the kind of folk who stir up trouble wherever they go. They despise the sacred traditions that bind all good citizens together, and promote their own radical beliefs instead…"

Eryx spoke delicately, but Isaveth knew what he meant… She sat rigid, trembling with the urge to leap up and denounce him—but how could she? Nobody here knew her, or had any reason to care what she thought. Especially since she was one of the very people Eryx was slandering.

"Of course," Eryx continued, "any enlightened society must tolerate some disagreement, however—er—disagreeable…"

Isaveth, 12, lives in Tarreton, a city powered by practical magic. For years, Isaveth and her family have done what they can to survive. She is remarkably talented at magical recipes and has managed to live off the meager income, doing her best to support her three sisters and her father, who has just been pardoned after being convicted for the murder of a city official (check out A Pocket Full of Murder for the full story!). After inventing a magic-resistant paper that revolutionized the Glow-Mor Light and Fire company's ability to ship magic tablets, Glow-Mor owner Mr. Wregget decides to give Isaveth a scholarship to attend the most exclusive magical school in Tarreton.

      Knowing that this might be just what she needs to help her family survive, Isaveth accepts the scholarship, in spite of knowing that her religious background and lower-class status will make life exceedingly difficult. Add to this the still unsolved murder of the city official for which her father was framed, and it becomes clear that Isaveth is in for a rather rocky school year. The one upside is that her friend Esmond is there, and now after so many months of Esmond's evil brother Elyx keeping them apart, she can finally see him more often!

      There are a lot of threads in this novel, and even though it is a sequel, R.J. Anderson manages to slowly reveal necessary bits of information from the previous novel while also feeding her readers clues to unveil the darker side of those in power in Tarreton. There are, of course, Esmond's brother, Elyx, his father, Governor Buldage (who may or may not be responsible for the murder enacted in the first book), and a number of wealthy elites who just don't like the fact that Isaveth is studying at the same school as them. Though sometimes they are stereotypically evil, Anderson manages to keep them from becoming straight-up caricatures.

      Esmond and Isaveth, as well as the rest of her family, really come to life throughout the narrative, developing and growing routinely as the mysteries continue to unravel. Esmond is the black sheep in his family, showing compassion for Isaveth and her family, helping her to undermine the machinations of his own brother and father as they attempt to suppress the Moshites and unions attempting to fight for fair wages and labour practices. Isaveth is a compelling heroine—she is compassionate while also being mistrustful of those around her, especially at school, and she is an ingenious sleuth and hard worker. Anderson has done a marvelous job constructing these characters. Eulalie, Isaveth's friend, is also quite a fun and supportive character, helping Isaveth sneak into a ball and untangle clues.

      The world-building is also quite well done, giving the reader a nineteenth century England vibe, but with Tarreton coming into its own through the elaborately described streets, buildings, and social structure. There is a lot of examination of the role of unions within the society as well, giving readers a bit of a primer on economics and the disparity between the elite and the working class. The opulence of the upper class and the hardships of the working class are described in great detail.

      Though it contains a fair amount of darkness and intrigue, A Little Taste of Poison is still a lot of fun—so many twists and surprises!—and will definitely grab the attention of young readers. Anderson is a very talented author of middle-grade fiction, blending mystery, intrigue, magic, and humour into compelling stories for young thriller fans.

Highly Recommended.

Rob Bittner is a graduate of the MA in Children's Literature program at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. He is currently a doctoral candidate in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at Simon Fraser University.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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