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The Poison Master

3.6  ·  Rating details ·  308 Ratings  ·  27 Reviews
Liz Williams is one of science fiction’s boldest new writers and this novel is one of her most profound speculations on freedom, love, and human destiny. On a distant world ruled by an alien race, humanity is enslaved, having forgotten its own past and condemned to have no future--until one woman is offered a choice that could restore humanity’s freedom.

The Poison Master

Paperback, 400 pages
Published January 1st 2003 by Spectra
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Apr 03, 2012 rated it liked it
**edited 11/28/13

The Poison Master was interesting and the world was original.
Alivet, the protagonist, is an alchemist on Latent Emenation, a dark, damp world ruled by the insectoid Lords of Night who keep humans enslaved via a brutal system enforced by "unpriests". The people themselves are docile, sodden with drugs and despair, their only rebellion the secret meetings where they search for their origin in drug-induced dreams.

...And that's all I'm going to post here.

The rest of my (rather v
Nov 03, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi-fantasy
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Well I loved this book, and it's been the first time in a while that I haven't been able to put a book down. There's so much going on in this book! It's first and foremost a sci-fi but with poisons, alchemy and some historical fiction mixed in along with a smidgeon of old religious and cultural practices. Really very exciting and different to a lot of things I've been reading lately - this book is a keeper :P
Feb 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fa

Recommended by Miriam for its great world building. She warned me that there were stuff I wouldn’t like about the characters, though. She was right.

Synopsis: Alivet lives on Latent Emanation, a planet where humans are slaves to the Lords of Night. She’s an apprentice alchemist, and is planning to save up enough so she can buy her twin sister from “embonding”, but when one of her rich clients die, she’s forced to seek the help of stranger.

Overall enjoyment: W
Peter Tillman
Jul 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sf-fantasy
Dave Kennedy has described tPM as "Dr Dee In Space, as told by Vance." I finished it, but didn't much care for it (sigh). I found the Elizabethan framing story to be (mostly) an annoying distraction. Alchemical apothecary Alivet Dee's interplanetary adventures are pretty entertaining, and certainly colorfully written. Comes to an abrupt and unsatisfying ending, perhaps to leave room for a sequel. Eh.

[from an rasfw Usenet post, 2004]
Oct 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can tell when I have been too long away from a certain genre or author – as I found out with this title. I really enjoyed the Detective Inspector Chen series (Snake Agent) and I have had this title for a while promising myself many times that I would read it.
Well after my recently spate of artwork books I thought it was time to go back to a more text orientated book, and this one came most immediately to hand.

The book was incredibly accessible and fun to read – the characters though alien an
Pam Baddeley
Apr 11, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
A novel in which the world building is good and we meet some strange and interesting characters and societies, plus there is an overall attempt to link this to Cabbalistic beliefs from the middle ages. The story is divided between a timeline in the 16th century and one in the far future. In the 16th century, the historical character, Dr John Dee, initially an artificier, alchemist and mathematician with big ideas, constrained by the need to avoid reprisals from the Catholic Church, eventually be ...more
Apr 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
A stand-alone SF book.

The Poison Master begins in 1547 when Doctor John Dee is trying to convince Sir John Cheke that Dee's large mechanical bee can be made to fly – with ropes and pulleys. Dee is a mathematician and dreams of calculating astronomical journeys. We follow his experiments throughout the years. The book has twelve parts with two to five short chapters, and each part begins with a chapter about John Dee.

But the main character of the book is Alchemical Apothecary Alivet Dee whose twi
May 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The first time I read this book, in the form of a borrowed ARC shamefully never returned, it totally blew my mind. I'd never come across something so compellingly atmospheric and unique, and I must have read it four or five times. Coming back to it now, certain elements look more familiar, in particular the titular Poison Master has the moody flavor of vampire princes the world round. I'm also still not convinced that John Dee's narrative adds all that much to the work.

Nonetheless, this book is
Alivet works as an apothecarist/alchemist to pay off her twin sister's enbondment to the Lords of the Night, the mysterious rulers of the planet. She is framed for poisoning a noblewoman, and agrees to work with Ghairen, an offworlder poison master assassin who needs her help in poisoning the Lords.

I was drawn into the worldbuilding, where the societies on the planets seem to be based on some sort of alchemical classification or model. The Lords of Night were a mixture of angel, demon, unknowab
Erica Anderson
Jul 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was a really unusual book--I can't think of anything to compare to it in terms of plot or originality. Although it has science fiction elements (interplanetary travel), there is also a strong sense of the fantastical (mysterious creatures, mystical transport). We have a swoon-worthy, enigmatic poison master who seeks out the heroine, an alchemist, for assistance in destroying the evil beings who rule her world.

The story is told from the heroine perspective, and much of the tension comes fr
Jan 17, 2008 rated it liked it
I liked Williams' characters in this book. The Poisonmaster had some unique abilities, and I had fun trying to imagine what it would be like to command an intimate knowledge of chemistry and to secret dozens of lethal substances on my person. The society of the Poisonmasters had promise, and I wish Williams had take the story further in this direction. The romance that she develops is typical, and its connection to greater events has a fairy-tale quality that was lost on me. Since Williams is a ...more
Aug 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction

I really enjoyed this - it was a bit strange and very different to the normal SF. I liked all the alchemic references and the links back to our world. Not sure I understand what the Night Lords were supposed to be or belive that they could become so corrupt so easily - no reasons were given for this. The love story was also a bit clumsy. But, apart from that, I found it intriguing and kept me hooked right to the very end.
Aug 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book had to much going on to be a stand-alone novel. If this was the first of a series I'd have no complaints. The author made multiple worlds, two different time periods, and several races, giving history and culture to each that was often at odds with other apects we were having to grasp at the same time. While I love the devotion to detail and the creation of so many elements, there was simply to much to learn to redeem what was enjoyable.
Jun 19, 2013 rated it liked it
I'm not a big fan of multiple timeline books. I typically am only interested in one of the timelines. In the case of The Poison Master, the John Dee timeline could have bee compressed to a prologue and I don't think I would have missed much story-wise.

I liked the Alivet-Ghairen storyline well enough, although the romance was rushed. I felt that that while the book as a whole was interesting, there too many loose threads to give it more than 3 stars.
This book was just bafflingly bad. It felt like so much energy went into the worldbuilding (and the world built seems like a fascinating one, with a number of intruiging characters) that there was none left over for the story, which dribbled on until it...I can't even say that it ended, because that would imply that it reached some sort of conclusion. The story just sort of stopped.
else fine
There is so much to love about this book, and a second read doesn't disappoint. Elizabethan intrigue, shadowy interdimensional alien overlords, poisonous gardens, alchemists and jackal-headed pilgrims. Truly delicious.
Aug 10, 2011 rated it liked it
An interesting piece of science fiction that blends its many elements in an original way. Unfortunately, the actions and motives of the characters weren't always terribly believable, and I wasn't entirely satisfied with the story either. Verdict: a good novel, but not an excellent one.
Aug 05, 2008 rated it liked it
I liked it better than I expected to. The writing was more enjoyable than in other books I've read by Liz Williams (Snake Agent, maybe others). It's a self-contained book, neatly set up and resolved, and by page 100 I was very interested in the story.
Carol Mohney
Nov 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Fantasy by Liz Williams (just read second book "Magic Study"-- interesting twist where you choose to be a poison taster to escape execution. (Told you I was into escapist literature!)
Sep 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
Sci Fi Fantasy read. Parallel stories of John Dee and distant granddaughter searching for a better world.
Nov 18, 2013 rated it liked it
An OK read - somehow finding the story contrived and the 16th cent England thread with Dr. Dee is somewhat superfluous, though I do see what the author means to do with it.
Chris Amies
Dec 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
Adept and engrossing novel set in an intricately imagined world.
a very odd book. i'm not entirely sure what i think of it.
Feb 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: did-not-finish
The plot seemed like it was going places, but something about the prose felt lackluster and the characters were too vague to grab me. I got about halfway in and lost interest.
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There is more than one author with this name

Liz Williams is a British science fiction writer. Her first novel, The Ghost Sister was published in 2001. Both this novel and her next, Empire of Bones (2002) were nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award.[1] She is also the author of the Inspector Chen series.

She is the daughter of a stage magician and a Gothic novelist. She holds a PhD in Philosophy of
More about Liz Williams