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This Poison Heart

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Darkness blooms in bestselling author Kalynn Bayron's new contemporary fantasy about a girl with a unique and deadly power.

Briseis has a gift: she can grow plants from tiny seeds to rich blooms with a single touch.

When Briseis's aunt dies and wills her a dilapidated estate in rural New York, Bri and her parents decide to leave Brooklyn behind for the summer. Hopefully there, surrounded by plants and flowers, Bri will finally learn to control her gift. But their new home is sinister in ways they could never have imagined--it comes with a specific set of instructions, an old-school apothecary, and a walled garden filled with the deadliest botanicals in the world that can only be entered by those who share Bri's unique family lineage.

When strangers begin to arrive on their doorstep, asking for tinctures and elixirs, Bri learns she has a surprising talent for creating them. One of the visitors is Marie, a mysterious young woman who Bri befriends, only to find that Marie is keeping dark secrets about the history of the estate and its surrounding community. There is more to Bri's sudden inheritance than she could have imagined, and she is determined to uncover it . . . until a nefarious group comes after her in search of a rare and dangerous immortality elixir. Up against a centuries-old curse and the deadliest plant on earth, Bri must harness her gift to protect herself and her family.

From the bestselling author of Cinderella Is Dead comes another inspiring and deeply compelling story about a young woman with the power to conquer the dark forces descending around her.

384 pages, Hardcover

First published June 29, 2021

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Kalynn Bayron

17 books3,218 followers

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5 stars
6,883 (41%)
4 stars
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3 stars
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119 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,407 reviews
Profile Image for Hailey (Hailey in Bookland).
601 reviews86.9k followers
July 17, 2021
I liked this one but I didn’t love it unfortunately. I think after having such a good time with Cinderella is Dead my expectations were a bit too high. It was a really unique urban fantasy with the plants and poisonous plants in particular being a main part of the story. I loved how it was inspired by the Secret Garden. And I definitely loved Briseis and her parents. But I felt like things meandered a bit too much in the beginning. I think the pacing was off as the book starts with just a lot of confusion and questions but never really answers and it came to be repetitive. In the very beginning it did hook me but eventually I wanted more progression and was bored. There also were some instances of a lot of info dumping. I didn’t expect mythology to be so prevalent which was very cool but the incorporation and explanation could be overwhelming. It still was a really unique read, but I don’t think I will pick up the sequel.
March 9, 2021

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Gorgeous cover aside, I'm going to need everyone who enjoyed Tracy Deonn's LEGENDBORN to add this to their TBRs a.s.a.p., because this book does with Greek mythology what that book did with Arthurian legends: strong Black heroine, magical heritage, Gothic elements, and family secrets. Can you say "YES"? Because I can.

THIS POISON HEART is about a girl named Briseis. She works in a flower shop with her two moms and she has a natural affinity for plants. An affinity that makes them approach her like friends and grow at super-speed. Also, she's immune to poison. I was thinking to myself, "Oh my God, she is literally like Poison Ivy" and was delighted when one of the characters in the book comes to a similar conclusion. Apparently this is also a Secret Garden retelling, but I'm just going to run with the Poison Ivy comparison. She even sort of meets her own Harley Quinn to be her BFF/love interest.

Anyway, Briseis finds out that her birth mother left her a house that comes with its own apothecary and garden and that's where things get weird. Because other people are interested in the garden and some of them are benign but some of them not so. And the deeper Briseis delves into the history of her family and her garden, the more she learns what's really at stake.

I obviously really enjoyed this book. It's the sort of light and breezy YA novel that I crave, and it didn't pull any punches. The last quarter was brutal and I can't wait to see where the author goes from here in telling Briseis's story. There's a lot to love in this book: beautiful descriptions of plants and nature, elemental magic (a weakness of mine), fairytales and mythology, LGBT+ rep, a main character who loves and will do anything for her family, and a really driving sense of pacing that kept me turning the pages even as part of me wanted to make this last so I could hold onto the story longer.

My only complaint is that it suffers from a problem a lot of YA books have: insta-love. I wish the relationship between Briseis and her love interest had been developed just a little more gradually and that there was more will they/won't they? before they finally got together (call me an evergreen, because I'm a sucker for a good pine).

That said, I seriously can't wait to read the sequel.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

4 stars
Profile Image for myo (myonna reads).
651 reviews6,096 followers
June 30, 2021
i feel like the author was trying to put too many black culture things in the book to make it and bri seem more relatable but it got really annoying at certain points because sometimes characters would say black phrases that didn’t fit into the conversation and it felt like the author was forcing it. i don’t mind having black culture things in books, i love it honestly but authors need to learn when they’re doing it too much. i also felt like the book never really got to the point like the book is 400 pages and from the last 65% is when the plot kicks in but other than that i really liked the book. it focuses a lot on greek mythology which was a surprise to me because i love greek mythology. i loved Bri as a character and especially her relationships with her moms and her moms healthy relationships with each other. i can tell the author put a lot of research into this book because everything was written extremely well from the plants to the greek mythology. i cant wait to read the sequel!
Profile Image for Robin.
286 reviews1,227 followers
May 5, 2021
↠ 4.5 stars

Ever since Briseis was a young girl the plants around her have bowed to her touch, even those with the potential to harm. It's a strange affinity she cannot even begin to understand, having never known her biological parents. When she receives news that she's inherited a rundown estate from an aunt she’s never met, the potential to learn more about her background is achieved. Along with her parents, she leaves Brooklyn behind to spend the summer at the house and hopefully discover more about her past. What she doesn't expect is a secret apothecary hidden in the grounds of the sprawling estate, and an abundance of visitors seeking her remedies. As Bri delves more into her family history and learns more about her affinity for poisons, she unearths something far darker than she expects, something that others would kill to attain.

This Poison heart is Kalynn Bayron’s sophomore novel, following up her previous debut Cinderella is Dead. If someone had told me that this would include a Greek mythology reimagining intertwined in the kernel of the story, I would have been all the more excited to sink my teeth into it. Even more to know that it would center around Medea, a figure that I have been waiting ages to get a proper retelling for. There are so many intricate layers to this story, and each one added revealed more complexity to Briseis’s character and the plot development. The plant based magic was by far the most interesting part of the novel for me. I loved how Bayron tied it in with Medea, Hecate, and the rest of Bri’s past. It all came together in a way I did not expect, but am no less impressed by. Bayron leads you into this novel like a quiet friend accompanies one deeper into a sheltered forest. The writing almost seems to mirror the power over plants that Bri possesses exactly. There really is something about reading this that feels akin to being enclosed within a walled garden. In fact, the book that comes to mind when I think about this is The Secret Garden, a favorite from my childhood. While this infinitely surpasses it in every possible way, I cannot help but be reminded of it strongly. The gothic atmosphere, familial relationships, friendships, and sapphic goodness serving to propel it even further. Bri really is a powerful character that I think many readers will come to resonate with, whether they be Black or LGBTQ+. So much of what stuck with me was the fluidity in which Bayron presented commentary on race and societal issues on par with everything else that was going on. It’s definitely something that was done well and I’d love to see more of the fantasy genre. With a cryptic house and a poison laced garden to explore, this story is sure to leave any reader satisfied and eagerly awaiting its follow up.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this arc in exchange for an honest review

Trigger warnings: blood, violence, murder, attempted murder, death, death of a loved one, poisoning, accidental cutting
Profile Image for human.
630 reviews934 followers
Want to read
December 17, 2020
the math is simple, and the math does not lie:
gorgeous cover
+ ownvoices fantasy retelling
= me screaming over why this book feels so far away while aggressively clicking the want to read button
Profile Image for literarylesbian.
226 reviews2,363 followers
July 4, 2021
(3 stars)

This book had enormous potential, but I feel like much of the plot missed the mark. I really enjoyed the characters, but the plot left something to be desired.

My biggest issue regarding the plot was the poor pacing. The main character didn't even arrive at the primary setting until about 25% of the way through. The exposition dragged on for a huge chunk of the beginning, and it made it hard to get through. Because of how slow thing were at the start, it seemed like suddenly everything was happening in the last chunk of the book, especially in the last few chapters. This book suffered major finale syndrome.

Another problem I had with this story was the use of the immortal love interest trope. It is revealed later in the story that the love interest is actually three-hundred thirty-six, but in the body of a seventeen year old. The main character is barely seventeen, yet is supposed to be dating someone hundreds of years her senior? This might not bother some people, but it's a definite no from me.

My final criticism with this book was the author's unwillingness to use words like lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer. This book has a modern setting, so the author's avoidance of LGBTQ+ terms makes little sense.

Now that we've got my negative opinions out of the way, let's talk a little bit about what I did enjoy:

- the characters! Briseis was a really interesting character and I loved her relationship with her moms.
- the magic system! The influence of mythology was something that surprised me, but it was super cool.
- the handling of adoption! I really appreciated how the author made it clear that Briseis wanting to learn about her birth mother and her family was not a betrayal to her moms, definitely handled this topic with the upmost care.
- black representation written by a black author!

While I did have some hefty concerns regarding this book, it is in no way a bad book, and I still definitely recommend it for fans of 'Cinderella is Dead'.

(edited after correction!)
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for ☆Pelumi☆.
259 reviews307 followers
Want to read
April 24, 2021
This woman writes the best books with the best covers, you can't change my mind
Profile Image for Ashley.
760 reviews407 followers
June 30, 2021
Star Rating: —> 5 Stars


The fun mix of retellings coming together and all of the greek mythology and the queer rep omfg omfg OMFGGGG this book is a DREAM!

Literally recommend this with my whole heart! SO DAMN GOOD!!!!!

Profile Image for book.olandia.
126 reviews1,445 followers
November 30, 2022
3.5 ku 4⭐️ świetna rozrywka, byłby z tego super serial, ostatnie 100 stron to jazda bez trzymanki i ten klimat🫠 bardzo przyjemna, na pewno będę czytała drugi tom!!
Profile Image for Charlie.
79 reviews280 followers
June 22, 2022
This Poison Heart has been on my radar since before it was published. This was my best friends favourite book of the year, and she has been pushing me to read it for a while now. We usually like the same books so I randomly decided to pick this up the other day when I had no idea what to read.

All I can say is, this book is absolutely incredible. I had hoped I’d like it, but I didn’t expect it to be a genuine new favourite! This Poison Heart follows Briseis, a teenage girl who has the ability to control plants. She lives in NYC with her two mums, when a woman shows up claiming her birth mother left her an entire mansion. Thus the mystery begins, why was she left the mansion, who were her birth family, and why does Briseis have this gift?

I adore mysteries set in abandoned or inherited houses/mansions. It’s a brilliant setting for a story. The atmosphere was perfect, and I loved how the reader explored the mansion with Briseis and gained information alongside the protagonist. Interesting and unique magic systems always make me fall in love with a book. For me, that was one of the most engaging parts of this book. I loved how Greek Mythology was entwined throughout. The mystery around Briseis’ powers was so captivating, and I didn’t expect how mythology would eventually lead to answers to those questions. The pacing was just right. There was always a new thread unravelling, and each chapter enticed me to keep reading. I have a problem with slow books and this was anything but!

I loved how openly queerness was explored. The author did something truly magical - she normalised queerness, whilst also allowing it to be an important and empowering part of Briseis’ identity.

This is a really fun read for anyone who loves Greek Mythology or YA. Yet, the characters had so much depth and diversity, and representation like this is so important. This book is great for all ages. The writing was truly wonderful, and I cannot recommend this enough!

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Profile Image for kaz.brekkers.future.wife.
366 reviews219 followers
February 19, 2022
!Minor Spoilers!
I'm so disappointed. This book did not meet my expectations. It wasn't down-right awful, but it wasn't necessarily good.
It was(mundane):

M ostly Briseis ranting about her abilities. I swear, the amount of times I had to read a ten dialogue page about how she was "dIfFeReNt FrOm OtHeR gIrLs" was so annoying. It felt like a conservative situation where they're "oppressed" because they're forced to wear masks. I'm not saying a girl struggling makes her a pick-me. In shatter me, Juliette went through so much. But her powers were literally traumatizing. She was locked up and forced to be a tool. She was abused, used, abandoned. I love characters who have struggles. What I don't love is when they make that their entire personality

U nder-pressure kind of situation. Nothing really happened in this book, and because nothing really happened, there were no nailbiting, edge of your seat, spine-shivering, scenes. That got on my nerves. Like a lot. There were some scenes that had the potential to make the reader delve into the murky dark of the story's past, but that was quickly ruined for some YA shit kind of humor or filler plot. This felt like gilmore girls. Don't get me wrong, I love Gilmore Girls. It's one of my favorite shows, but that's because it doesn't label itself as a magical realism mysterious fantasy story

N othing-special. This story had a lot of potential if I'm being honest. maybe a quarter through the book, I was really in deep. IT was getting interesting. Bayron had a chance to make something fresh and new. But it was a typical YA kind of book. I'm not saying I wasn't expecting it to not be YA, but do we really have to toss a beautiful plot in the trash for cute giggly w/w moments and angst. There could have been something. The story, the history, it was all amazing. But Baryon dimmed it down a bit. Okay,s eh dimmed it down ALOT. Lights out for sparkly potential, candles lit for cheesy romance.

D umb-dumb-dumb. Most of the characters were stupid. And like, horror-movie stupid. Briseis and the potential to be a strong protagonist, but it was ruined. Her decisions were really stupid. She almost got her friend killed. She showed off her powers in public, put her moms' life in danger. And never EVER admitted she made a mistake!!

A mazing writing. Though the plot and characters lacked.....well....potential, I really liked the writing. It remidinged me of a warm conservatory that totally fits the vibez for this book. I do have to admit, Bayron has nice writing. it wasn't over-the-top and it made me feel for Bri a little bit. A LITTLE, not a lot.

N uisance-trope-of-insta-love. I LOVE SAPPHIC BOOKS. I'm a gay girl, so I'm crazy for sapphic. But the relationship between Marie and Briseis felt so rushed. i shipped Briseis with Karter more than I did with Marie. They barely had anytime together, and can I mention that Marie literally stalked her. AND KILLED AN INNOCENT PERSON. I don't care that he attacked her, he WAS STILL INNOCENT> But Briseis was all like "i can change her, heart eyes, wishy-washy love monologue." And Bayron gave to many hints that Briseis was gay. It was annoying. Like, you wouldn't do that with a straight character. so don't do it with a gay one either.

E verything I didn't expect.

I am so disappointed!!

Review to come

I'm ready for some light academia black witch tingz.
The Books Of Black History Month:
1) Ace Of Spades ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
2) Raybearer Beyond ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
3) Children Of Virtue and Vengeance⭐️
4) Instructions For Dancing ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
5) Dread Nation ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
6) The City We Became Beyond ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
7) Charming As A Verb ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
8) Skin Of The Sea ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
9) Witches Steeped In Gold⭐️
10) Harlem Shuffle⭐️⭐️⭐️
11) This Poison Heart⭐️⭐️
12) The Fifth Season Beyond ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Profile Image for Anniek.
1,654 reviews617 followers
June 20, 2022
Wow wow wow. 10/10. Douze points. Stunningly perfect reading experience.

I came for the vibes, and I stayed for them too, but also for the amazing reading experience, the creepy, mysterious vibes, the way Greek mythology was interwoven in the story in a way I've never seen before. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, could not put it down but could also not get myself to read faster in case I missed something, and there were so many amazing secrets and reveals. Book 2 is immediately one of my most anticipated releases of 2022 (hopefully?!)!
Profile Image for Amy Imogene Reads.
882 reviews760 followers
June 4, 2022
4 poisonous stars

Poisons, mythology, secrets, creaky old mansions, and more—OH MY. Really nice setup for a series! Wish the first half had been less boring.

Concept: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Pacing: ★★
Last third of the book: ★★★★★

Briseis has a strange skill. A gift, maybe. Some might call it a curse. Growing up adopted in Brooklyn, Briseis and her two moms discover that she can grow any plant. She can rebirth a plant from its withered ashes. The plants also want to... be close to Briseis. In fact, whenever a plant is near her it literally moves to be closer.

As you can imagine, this is a problem in the nonmagical world of our current times, and especially in the concrete jungle of New York City where every plant is noticeable.

One day, Briseis and her moms receive a strange visitor claiming to be a solicitor from the small rural New York community of Rhinebeck. Briseis' birth mother, Selene, and Selene's sister, Circe, lived in an old mansion in the community and both have died recently. Briseis is the sole inheritor.

So her family moves to Rhinebeck.

Now surrounded by the ghosts of her birth family, a gothic mansion filled with secrets, and a mysterious garden on the property with a locked gate, Briseis is about to discover the true meaning of her abilities and just what, exactly, they're meant for.

Cue the dramatic, suspenseful music!

I thought This Poison Heart was awesome. Well, for for the first half, not so much. I was bored silly. In order to give this large plot its proper setup—and to get Briseis from Brooklyn to Rhinebeck and more—we had to take a lot of time to build up the suspense and get to know all the players involved. While this totally makes sense, it made for an extremely boring opening read and made me slip into the assumption that this novel was going to be just like other YA traditional novels.

It is NOT like your run-of-the-mill adventure. You just have to get past that part to realize it.

Once the plot kicks off, this was awesome. I couldn't stop reading it, and I loved what the author brought into play for the next book. This series (duology? more?) is going to play with a lot of myths, magics, and more—and I can't WAIT!

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Profile Image for Kezia Duah.
357 reviews228 followers
December 2, 2021
Hmmm, I really tried to make sure I found this exciting, but it just want giving. It had a great ending though, so definitely looking forward to read the next book.
Have you guys seen the cover for the next book??!! It’s so pretty!!! I wanna tear up. In fact, I just made it my wallpaper.
Profile Image for Wren (fablesandwren).
667 reviews1,497 followers
June 2, 2021
RTC but damn.. I’ve never read a more unique take on mythology. This book blew my mind.

Thank you Net Galley and to the publisher for a e-reader and a physical ARC of this book.

I absolutely love this book.

I did not know what I was getting into when I started this one. All I knew was that the main character could grow plants, aka a dream power I would love to have. Little did I know that there would be LGBTQ+ representation through out the book, the most healthy relationship between a daughter and her mothers I have ever seen, a girl trying to learn more about her biological parents with the support of her moms, and also a twist involving greek mythology.

So Briseis works in a flower shop with her moms that is actually named after her. They know about her power, they help with her power and they don't use her power to help their shop (which honestly made me weep at the consideration of their daughter). They are having some money issues (and still not exploiting her powers) when all of a sudden.. Briseis inherits this big house and loads of land from her biological aunt that she has never met in her whole life. Her mom passed away and she never expected anything from her biological family.. but she just realized something new about her power and she is eager to see if it is just her, a family trait, a weird coincidence or something else entirely.

I will say that the only thing I wish was fleshed out more was the romance. It isn't the main focus of the story, and it absolutely shouldn't be. BUT, it felt a little forced and I wish we had a little more.. feeling in it I guess?

Profile Image for booksandzoe.
240 reviews1,573 followers
July 6, 2022
This was such a unique, refreshing take on Greek mythology! I loved getting to know Briseis, her mothers, and reading about her adventure of identity discovery.

First of all, I love the representation of sapphic elders in this book. It's so rare that I see an LGBTQ couple in the spotlight over the age of... say 35? Reading the beautifully casual representation of that couple was so healing for me, as I have no queer "elder" role models, and it's sometimes so hard to imagine myself in a queer, lifelong relationship.

I think Bayron was masterful in writing quirky, fleshed out, lovable characters in this book. Seriously, I loved every single character! The plot development, character set-up, and writing was definitely a step up from Bayron's debut novel, Cinderella is Dead, although I was also a huge fan of that book.

I wasn't thrilled with the "immortal love interest" trope in this book. I think it's SO creepy to pair an underage character with a love interest who has the body of a 17 year old, but is actually like,, 350 years old. The inclusion of this trope in this book was /very/ disappointing to me, and although their romance is brief, (I'm expecting more of it in book 2) I was super grossed out by it, and probably wouldn't have picked up the book had I known that trope would be present.

Overall, I think this was a great read! Bayron does a fantastic job combining reality, complete with 21st century pop culture references, with the magic of Greek mythology, and I'm really looking forward to book 2!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for JustJJ.
86 reviews120 followers
January 27, 2023
“You’re some kind of actual black girl magic”

Rating: 4 stars

Cover: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Writing: 🌟🌟🌟🌟
Storyline: 🌟🌟🌟🌟
Main character(s): 🌟🌟🌟🌟
Secondary characters: 🌟🌟🌟🌟
Romance: 🌟🌟🌟
Narration: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

RTC @Bookerification
Profile Image for atlas ♡.
107 reviews110 followers
July 23, 2021
DNF @ 71%

Mainly DNFed because of the horrible age gap between the MC and love interest, (376 to 17 i'm pretty sure). The whole "immortal" love interest trope is overused and just gross. The pacing was weird and barely anything had happened.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending out a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Sara.
1,039 reviews348 followers
August 2, 2021
ARC received in exchange for an honest review 🌱

From an early age, Briseis has known she's different. She can get flowers to bloom at her touch, and trees bend towards her wherever she goes. When she inherits a mysterious house from an unknown ancestor, she finally has a place with enough space to let herself explore her gift to its fullest. But privacy comes at a price, and the house comes with generations of family secrets and a deadly poisonous legacy.

I really liked the characters in this. Briseis has grown up in a loving, accepting family where they're all very open and honest with each other. In a way, her mother's have helped cultivate Bri into the grounded individual we see in the novel. They love her no matter what, and help encourage her powers rather than suppress them. It's outside influence, and the fear of how other people will react, that are the only things holding her back. She's also incredibly caring, although this then leads her to being too easily trusting of people. She's not quite got that jaded view of the world that someone who hasn't grown up in a loving home has, and I think at times this does make her a bit too nice for her own good. I like my characters with a bit of moral ambiguity.

I really loved the descriptions of plants, and how they almost have a mind of their own. The twisting vines that leave gifts on Briesis, the violent whips of ivy in the poison garden and how they react to match her own emotions, were all cleverly written and helped to create an atmosphere that is suitably creepy and dangerous. I also liked the way Greek mythology is woven into the story. It builds on known myths and misinterpretations of women in the Greek stories to tell it's own history and build up this backstory and add layers to the characters storylines.

I did think that the plot was quite slow paced. It's more an exploration of personal growth and acceptance on Bri's part with this slow building mystery behind it with very little in the way of action. It's a quiet story in a way, which feels as though it's building up to this bigger overreaching arc that never quite gets there. It also feels quite fragmented at times, as though there's too many ideas rolled together at once and not quite reaching its potential. I was intrigued enough to want to know the answers to secrets Briesis goes looking for, but I can't say I was completely satisfied with what I got.

Black girl magic will always be a winner in my book, but this felt a bit ragged around the edges. A faster pace would have worked wonders, but I still highly recommend for those looking for a rather unique YA light fantasy.
Profile Image for Emily.
213 reviews709 followers
June 3, 2021
Overall 4.5/5
Just wow this book was just everything & more. I loved the modern references such as Get Out & Tiktok as they made me chuckle. One of my favourite parts of this book was the inclusion of Greek Mythology as I didn’t expect it & learning about all the plants mentioned was super interesting to me. Sometimes the main character was a little slow putting clues together but otherwise I really enjoyed reading about her. I went into this book expecting a standalone & was pleasantly surprised that there is going to be a sequel.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for the proof copy!
Profile Image for Vee_Bookish.
1,211 reviews271 followers
June 16, 2022
A magical Queer story of a Poison Garden, close family bonds, small town secrets and Greek myth, this was such a fun ride. I loved that Briseis magic was specific to plants, and I enjoyed following her as she finally found a place away from the chaos of the city where she could truly test her magic.

Briseis's moms are two of my favourite parents in YA, they're loving, hilarious and work with Bri when she's gifted the estate and starts to learn more about her biological family. As they work in a flower shop, I really got strong Bly Manor vibes from them and it was nice to see what could have been.

I have a whole shelf for Greek Myth books because I simply know nothing of Greek Myths. Luckily for me, neither does Bri, so I felt like we were on a journey to work out what the hell was going on together, and never felt confused by the stories referenced.

This is such a twisty story that kept even me guessing, and I can't wait to see what happens in the sequel! I'm hoping we get to see Bri and Marie's relationship develop, and unlock more of Marie's past as I still feel like she's hiding something.
Profile Image for Artemis Crescent.
856 reviews
July 3, 2022
I was so excited to read this book. I'd first heard of it from Amazon, and I bought it in my local bookshop literally the next day.

'This Poison Heart' appears to have everything: a bespectacled Black queer female lead who has two mums, and who has the powers of Poison Ivy to boot; almost an entire POC cast; normalised LBGTQ content (there's also a nonbinary childhood friend for the lead); a gothic atmosphere and mystery; witchcraft; Black sisterhood and female power; Greek mythology - specifically, this is a reinterpretation of Medea, referencing her even outside of Greek myths; and it's a retelling of 'The Secret Garden'. It contains references to 'Hamilton', 'Hadestown', 'Get Out', 'Us', 'Black Panther', Disney's 'Hercules', and yes, DC's Poison Ivy is cited in-text, in comparison to the heroine Briseis's own horticultural and poison making and handling abilities.

Really, what more could you want? It all sounds positively incredible. And throughout the majority of the book, it is.

While slow-paced with not much of a plot happening in 75% of it, I liked the characters (especially the mums, who Briseis calls Mom and Mo, they're awesome and adorable), and the magic and mystery spread over everything, like dark, nightly and star-studded Nutella. The only serious objection I could give the story is: why is Briseis so careless and stupid when it comes to showing off the most poisonous plants in the world, in her secret garden, to other people, who are not immune like she is, and when these plants can kill just by inhalation? That and the romance between Bri and Marie is rather forced, underdeveloped and creepy. Oh and there's also the infuriating everyone-keeping-secrets-from-the-female-teen-protagonist cliché in YA that I hate. But overall, it is well written and addictive, and I was super into it.

But then from page 319 onward, things take a turn for the WTF. Everything goes to shit: huge plot holes, huge sudden character heel turns, idiot balls being juggled, character motivations either making no sense or are nonexistent, and deus ex machinas thrown in like ass pulls a child would scoff at. It is a complete mess. I'm still recovering from the whiplash from this shift in quality. It's like another, woefully unprepared writer took over for the climax. It is so bad it completely destroyed my enjoyment of the rest of the book.

So, here's what happens in the last insultingly dumb fifty-one pages of 'This Poison Heart':

Bri has been finding a few secret doors and hidden compartments in her new house, which she inherited from her birth mother's family. She had been finding notes and letters as well, about where her powers might come from, and about a secret garden, supposedly from her late maternal aunt Circe; all of which she'd kept from her mums. But when she finds another door containing a witch's altar, suddenly and with no explanation whatsoever, she yells for her mums to come and check it out with her, when previously she had been keeping her activities a secret from them, because anything hinting at danger could make them move back to New York, and Bri won't be able to solve the mystery of herself and her heritage. Now the overprotective mums are in on everything - including the preservation of a plant called the Absyrtus Heart, which is a part of the Medea legend and is passed down through her bloodline, and is highly, deadly poisonous, but can grant immortality (what?). Apparently. And it's no big deal. Great.

But that's small weed pulling compared to the biggest problem the book careens and crashes into like an inferno: Mrs. Melissa Redmond.

Mrs. Redmond is the solicitor who, at the beginning, had let Bri and her mums know about Bri's inheritance and the mysterious gothic house just outside the small town of Rhinebeck. Circe Colchis died (but not really, it's revealed later that she went missing for years and was recently presumed dead, but again not really; I'll get back to this), and left her house (and secret garden) in Rhinebeck to her niece Bri, her only living relative. Partly for Bri's benefit, and partly to solve their financial difficulties in New York (they own a flower shop), the family moves into the house, if temporarily. Up until page 332, Mrs. Redmond is shown to be an ally to Bri and her family, and professional and stable, if strict and slightly neglectful towards her teenage son Karter, who befriends Bri and becomes part of her trusted friends group. Redmond is smart, and an adult.

BUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUT in the next thirty-two pages after page 332, Mrs. Redmond is replaced by a completely different character. She literally comes stumbling into Bri's house looking like hell - beat up, bloodied, hair a mess - and pulls an eviction notice, an order to vacate the property for an auction, on the family straight out of her arse, expecting them to be stupid enough to buy into it. She's desperate, rude, sarcastic, unhinged, and sneers and grins like a bad high school movie alpha bitch.

For you see, it turns out Mrs. Redmond is the villain, the diabolical mastermind behind everything the whole time. She wanted Bri to own the house and find the garden with the poisonous plants, it was she who wrote those notes and letters for the girl to find, not Circe, in order to lead her to the garden, and wherein, the Absyrtus Heart, which Mrs. Redmond wants to grant her immortality. But only Bri can handle it without dying, so Redmond wanted to use her and her powers to get at it.

There was no hint whatsoever about Mrs. Redmond being evil beforehand. She aided Bri (and didn't appear much in the book, at any rate), and never even attempted to steal the keys to the garden's gates from her - some of which the woman had the entire time anyway - and if she needed Bri to get the Absyrtus Heart to her, then why did she attempt to get through the gates before going to the house with the eviction notice, hence why she looked so beat up? (The plants are sentient and only allow Bri with her powers to go through unharmed). Redmond knew what would happen, and Bri had the keys! Which. Mrs. Redmond. Gave. To. Her. Why didn't she just force Bri to retrieve the Heart by threatening one of her mums in the very beginning? She thinks to do this at the end, thus the majority of the book, the large part of the middle, is kind of a convoluted waste of time.

Mrs. Redmond is the worst kind of twist villain in any medium: the reveal comes out of nowhere, is there for the sake of a plot twist, and her personality takes a total 180 turn as soon as the narrative exposes her villainy. Or in this case, her villainy is revealed through stupid, nonsensical contrivances near the very end of the story. Her character change, from professional and hardworking career woman to batshit insane banshee with a god complex (more on this in a bit), is so blatant you have to wonder how she kept up her façade until now. It truly is like she had been replaced by a badly written spoiled child with a bloodlust (she's actually described as crooked and wicked, and not in a good way).

On that subject of her character change, to add another layer of ridiculous and convoluted, it turns out that Mrs. Redmond is descended from the bloodline of Jason, he of the Argonauts (by Hades this is stupid), paralleling her with Bri and her ancestry, dating back to Medea. Redmond wants the Absyrtus Heart (which is like a disembodied part of Medea's brother Absyrtus, thus why her descendants have been protecting it... just, don't ask) to grant her immortality, because she thinks it's her right - her right to be among the gods still walking the earth... gods who had not been mentioned in the book at all before, as existing in contemporary times. She's as one-dimensional a YA fantasy baddie as you can get.

I'm now going to throw up my hands and say "Eff it, let's get on with it,", and quote a line of Redmond's which perfectly encapsulates everything wrong with this "twist" - both to her character and the story - and how mindbogglingly incompetent it is. Here it is, bring on the cringe:

'"I want the Absyrtus Heart, and I want it now."' - page 346

Yes, she actually says this. The wicked, crazier-than-the-Joker-only-never-so-stupid villainess, whom you are somehow meant to view as a serious threat, sounds exactly like Veruca Salt, only taken to demonic extremes.

In fact, that comparison has inspired me: from this point forth, I'll be referring to Mrs. Redmond as Veruca Sore. It's an apt descriptor of her, post-twist villain reveal.

Veruca Sore's son, Bri's friend Karter, was also in on this plan the entire time. Mysterious men and thugs stalking and attacking Bri when the two of them were going out, her mums' car's tires being slashed - all Karter's doing and instigating. Unlike with his mother, I knew that Karter was bad or at least suspicious, when it is said by Dr. Khadijah Grant, public safety officer and social worker in Rhinebeck (again, more on her later), that the bookshop he works at wasn't open for as long as he said it was, and he hasn't worked there for as long as he said he had. But like his mother, his twist villainy reveal is as well handled as a herd of bulls in a teashop. He'd wanted to warn Bri and get her to leave Rhinebeck before Veruca Sore shows up in full crazy mode, but apart from that and a weak "Sorry" and "You said no one else would get hurt" or two, he is unflinchingly loyal to his mother. He even helps her to kill Bri's Mom without hesitation. He is a puppet, a blank slate. And despite it being stated twice during this idiotic and rushed climax that Veruca Sore doesn't give a shit about her son - that she's happy to leave him behind to be immortal, and to risk his life if it means obtaining her victory - the two of them embrace once the vial containing the MacGuffin Heart's grinded remains (the Living Elixir) is in her grasp. Why is Karter so pathetic? He knows his mum doesn't care about him, and that he's basically her slave. The WTF levels in the ending of the book are just... argh!

Also, why didn't Bri figure out that Veruca Sore was the one who murdered her birth mother, Selene, and possibly more of her birth family? Veruca had to mention it in one of her villain monologues for the girl to put two and two together! It's so freaking obvious! I'd thought she already knew it! Why is everyone in this book so moronic?!

Now we come to how the villain is defeated. It is not by the hands of the heroine, the plant and poison controlling young descendent of the tragic Medea, oh no. All Briseis does is tackle Veruca Sore after grinding the MacGuffin Heart for her. But Mom is still murdered by Veruca, and all hope seems lost. Then who should show up out of the blue, but Hecate herself, from a portal to the underworld, with her giant hound (Cerberus? But it doesn't have three heads, so...). More plot twists! Not only has Veruca Sore been using aliases for years in her hunting down of the Medea bloodline (how old is she?! And how old is Karter? And why did she want to kill the Colchis family when she needs them to find the Heart? Why didn't she threaten Selene or Circe into doing her bidding through their loved ones like she's now doing with Bri--ahh, fuck it), but Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft, didn't merely gift Medea with horticultural powers and poison immunity after the death of Absyrtus. No: Medea is Hecate's daughter.

Briseis, our YA fantasy heroine, revolutionary in terms of race and LBGTQ representation, ordinary and relatable aside from her "specialness", her flower power, is a demigoddess. Sure, why the fuck not at this point? It might have been okay if Bri actually did anything in the climax - anything cool - but nope. Even with the powers of a goddess, she's still useless.

Hecate comes right out of nowhere - did someone summon her? Has she been watching the proceedings the whole time? If so then why didn't she intervene earlier?! She is the actual definition of a deus ex machina! - and literally picks Veruca Sore up like a child taken to bed after a temper tantrum, and buggers off to the underworld with her, plus the hound, who also does nothing. And for no reason, Hecate the goddess ex machina lets Karter go! She tells him to go away and never return to the Colchis house and please don't do anything naughty young man while I take your mother to hell, m'kay? I'm sure that won't come back to bite anyone in the arse in the sequel! Karter may be young (I think? It's confusing) and not as cartoonishly, witch-cackling-ly evil as Veruca Sore, but he's been complicit in every one of her evil deeds, including murder!

*screams into eternity*

Why did this have to happen? Why did it happen like this? Why did you betray me, book? I believed in you, I liked you a lot! Now I can never trust any YA literature ever again, old and new!

Also it turns out that Circe is alive (*gasp* WHO COULD HAVE SEEN THAT COMING?!) and she shows up out of nowhere in the last two pages of the book, shamefully setting up the sequel. I'm not joking. Where has she been all along? How did she know to show up now, when things are at their worst and it would have been better to see Briseis much, much earlier? I don't know, and I don't care. I won't be reading the sequel.

Other things I have to criticise: Dr. Grant. She knew about the Colchis women, was friends with them, and apparently she comes from a family of alchemists. Her father, Isaac, is a head alchemist and leader in a secret magic society, or something to that effect. This element to the story goes absolutely nowhere. There's no development, and is only important in the one chapter it is introduced, where Bri serves Isaac in her newly opened apothecary, which belonged to the Colchis women before her. Guess we'll have to wait for the sequel for anything to come of it.

Then there's the romance. Is there a romance? I could hardly tell; it is as underdeveloped as almost everything else. It is instalove, but that's the least of its problems. Marie acts creepy towards Briseis (watching her from outside her new house is only the start). Bri is aware that the strange girl might be dangerous and not what she seems, but she ignores her instincts because Marie is so pretty. Later on it is revealed (plot twist! Pile 'em on!) that Marie is three hundred and seventy six years old, and was lovers with an ancestor of Bri's, who gave her an Absyrtus Heart to save her life and grant her immortality. Oh and she has super strength and can squash men's heads with her bare hands. Somehow none of this deters Bri. She realistically freaks out at first, but after some light kisses, it is clear that Marie is still a viable love interest. A centuries-old woman in a teenage girl's body is flirting with and lusting over a girl who is barely seventeen years old. Said immortal woman was also in love with the girl's ancestor. If Marie had been male, more people would be describing her as toxic, equalling Edward Cullen. Why is she even relevant to the story? She doesn't appear or figure into the big climax in any way.

[2022 EDIT: I have since been informed in the comments that Bri's statement about the awkward and so-clumsy-he-sprains-his-ankle-in-practically-every-chapter-he-appears Karter being "scary" on page 308, means scared in AAVE, and it does not mean scary in the other sense of the word. It is not an editing mistake. I deeply apologise for my ignorance. The only criticism of the scene I'll leave in is: it is still Bri, Marie and Karter going on an inexplicable and ill-advised trip to the poison garden, with Karter being totally unprotected.]

Lou the undertaker. Does he need to exist? Has he and his family been covering up the suspicious deaths of the Colchis women for forever? Why? Does he work for Veruca Sore? It's extremely unclear. But if he does, then why is Karter so hostile to him when they meet, calling him creepy and accusing him of being horrible to Bri?


This sodding book.

(I praise the LBGTQ rep, except in one aspect: Marlon, Bri's nonbinary childhood friend, doesn't factor into the story in the slightest. They're in the past, in NY, to be forgotten about.)

All right, one last thing I need to bring up:

One of the points that 'This Poison Heart' attempts to make is that the figure of Medea has been a victim of cultural misogyny, in her own time and throughout history. She's been twisted into the ultimate epitome of the woman scorned cliché in our culture and society, to suit the patriarchy's needs, with no sympathy or critical human thought by the men (i.e. the self-appointed winners who are dictating history) writing about her. There's no evidence of her even killing her own children to get back at the cheating Jason; that is only present in Euripides's play.

So, with that in mind, who does the bad guy in 'This Poison Heart' turn out to be? A patriarchal figure? Like Isaac Grant? NAH! Of course not! That makes too much sense. No, the villain is a crazy, murderous, power hungry lady with a god complex and entitlement issues who would let her child die if it meant achieving her goals.

*slow clapping*

That's one way to eff up your moral.

But after all of that negativity, all that BS, I will leave off my review of 'This Poison Heart' with one positive note on the ending: it is centered exclusively on women of colour, the majority of whom are queer. The Black sisterhood angle and image - focusing on Black Sapphic witches - is present and genuine. Credit where it's due, that is powerful and revolutionary, especially for YA.

Nyx, Marie's bodyguard (does she really need one?)/butler, is cool, too. She's described as like Okoye.

It's a shame the writing and plotting doesn't compliment the abovementioned image. 'This Poison Heart' still falls back on old, annoying YA tropes, and features the worst villain I have ever encountered in YA in a long, long time.

I'm sorry. I didn't like the author's previous novel, 'Cinderella Is Dead', either. Maybe Kalynn Bayron's writing isn't for me. I want it to be, because she offers great ideas and representation. I am saddened that me being a fan of hers isn't meant to be. I won't be reading any more of her work.

Apologies to the author and the readers who love this book. I mean no disrespect, but I had to add my own opinions to the beloved book community; get them out there.

That's my review of 'This Poison Heart'. I hope everyone has a lovely, stress-free day.

Final Score: 2/5
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
1,898 reviews3,125 followers
June 12, 2021
Definitely a step up in storytelling from Cinderella is Dead! This Poison Heart is a cross between Little Shop of Horrors and Greek mythology with Black girl magic. While not a perfect book, there is a lot to like here and I think this will be a hit with a lot of readers. It's fun, creative, mysterious, and has pretty great family dynamics.

Briseis was adopted by her two moms, and I LOVE her moms and their relationship with each other- one of the best parts of the book in my opinion. They live in Brooklyn and Briseis is struggling to keep a lid on her secret plant magic. Then they find out that Bri's aunt by blood has left her a mysteriou estate in rural New York, and they decide to visit for the summer. There are family secrets and a poison garden, filled with deadly plants that Briseis is immune to.

I love the atmosphere of this book and the way that it wove Greek mythology together with some really cool ideas and tons of information on poisonous plants. The mystery elements are interesting and the ending is pretty intense with a lot of big reveals. I think the one issue I had is there's a lack of foreshadowing for many of those revelations which can make the story feel more meandering than propulsive. This is the sort of book that could have been a page-turner, but instead spends the first half feeling like a slightly magical, introspective coming of age story before eventually shifting to a high-stakes mystery/thriller with mythological elements. And I like that there are quiet moments with the family or discovering things about plants or the house, but I think a little more tension and foreshadowing early on would have made the ending feel less abrupt. Note that this is the start of a series and there is a cliffhanger ending as well! Overall, a solid book and worth a read. I received an advance copy of this book for review via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Content warnings include violence, gore, depictions of blood, rituals, death of a loved one.
Profile Image for Andy.
2,354 reviews176 followers
January 25, 2022
I loved this so much!! I need the sequel right now!! I really enjoyed Cinderella Is Dead when it came out, but This Poison Heart has me at stan levels for Kalynn Bayron. Ma'am can do no wrong. I will read ANYTHING she writes. Also desperate for the sequel *cries in queer*

This Poison Heart is about Briseis, an adopted Black girl with two moms. She's always been able to grow plants well past what would be considered normal. Then when a lawyer comes to visit, she tells Briseis that she's inherited a manor from her biological mom and aunt. Together, Briseis and her moms decide to try it out for a month. Briseis finds letters from her aunt and begins to learn there's much more to her family heritage than she thought.

I loved Briseis's character so much. Her knack with plants was so cool. I loved seeing all she could do with her magic and seeing her bring her family's apothecary back. I really hope we get to see more of the apothecary in book 2. Honestly, give me a novella just about Briseis growing the plants and selling them to her customers, I WOULD LOVE IT.

I didn't know there was Greek mythology in this until like a couple days before I read it. I am a hoe for any type of mythology, so my interest and fascination skyrocketed and this book fucking delivered. Between the mystery of the manor and Bri's blood family, to murder and magic, I was captivated by this book and I did not want it to let go. Honestly, I'm ready to reread this now.

There's just a small hint of romance in this book and I'm so curious to see what will bloom between these two. I'm rooting so hard for them. Yes these are plant puns.

Rep: adopted Black pansexual female MC with two Black moms, sapphic Black female love interest, Black male side character, Black female side character.

CWs: Blood, death, death of parent, injury/injury detail, murder, violence. Minor: mentions of racism and past instances of police brutality.
Profile Image for Jeann (Happy Indulgence) .
1,001 reviews3,091 followers
August 22, 2021
This review was originally posted on Happy Indulgence Books. Check it out for more reviews!

What a fun and unique read! This Poison Heart features a blend of plant loving, Greek mythology and a haunting tale to find one's own mysterious heritage. I thought Briseis was such a fun main character, particularly with her powers of growing and understanding plants (like Poison Ivy). Although this isolates her from other people, she has a strong bond with her two mothers which was lovely to see.

Although they start off in New York, the bulk of the novel happens when they move to a rural town in New York where she has inherited an estate from her birth mother. Cue all the haunting instances with mysterious strangers showing up on the doorstep, skeleton keys that open up doors, and an intriguing apocathery and accompanying garden with deadly plants. I loved discovering all the secrets that the manor had to offer, and how it was tied to Brisei's own ancestors and heritage. There is certainly a thread of magical realism within the book, and the setting is haunting, vivid and evocative which I loved.

As you may have guessed, there is some wonderful LGBT representation here, along with some commentary of Briseis and her family being one of the only Black families in the rural town they end up in. It was nice to see a main character with two mothers, along with being bisexual herself which is commented on in the novel.

I received a review copy from Bloomsbury Australia in exchange for an honest review. Check out Happy Indulgence Books for more reviews!
Profile Image for Ellie.
176 reviews671 followers
October 10, 2021
2/5 stars

This book was so boring that I can barely write a review for it, so I will write an acrostic poem instead (channeling all that big-brain grade 5 energy here):

B – Briseis being stupid and not being able to connect any simple plot points
O – Only one real setting, which is a gothic mansion that contains like 3 rooms of note and 0 intrigue.
R – Romance straight out of a terrible, terrible 2000s paranormal book
I – Ingeniously flat characterization all around the board*
N – No plot until 80%
G – God what a stupid, convoluted, ridiculous villain
*Except for Briseis’ mums, who were very fun and cute.

I liked the Greek mythology and discussion about Medea but let’s be honest, this duology should’ve been reduced to one book because fuck all happens in this one and the ending is a hot mess.

2/5 stars <3
Profile Image for Brittany McCann.
1,475 reviews380 followers
September 23, 2022
I loved this book, and I loved Briseis. I love the poison garden and this new twist on Poison Ivy and Little Petshop of Horrors.

This is a fun and excellent debut. There were a couple of parts in the end that felt rushed, but otherwise, I had a great time with this one.

4.5 Stars rounded up to 5
Profile Image for Jude in the Stars.
814 reviews427 followers
June 20, 2021
Not all gifts are welcome. Briseis is bright and determined and if keeping herself in check didn’t require so much of her energy, she’d be an excellent student. But as it is, trying to stop plants – flowers, trees, grass – from reacting to her presence takes a lot of focus. Furthermore, when you’re hiding who you are, it’s hard to keep your friends or make new ones. So when Briseis learns that her birth sister’s mother willed her a property in the countryside, Briseis and her mothers decide to leave Brooklyn and their flower shop for a while and spend the summer in the house the teenager inherited. Despite her fear of being overwhelmed when surrounded by plants, Briseis finds herself able to relax in a brand new way. She also realises there’s more to what she inherited than an old house and a garden. Her birth family’s history goes back a very long time and her ability to make plants grow is only the tip of the iceberg. The safe part of the iceberg.

The main character, Briseis, is relatable despite her incredible gift, her two moms – Mom and Mo – are wonderful, all three are complex and flawed but full of love and trust. I loved the moms, the relationship between them and their relationship with their daughter.

When the three of them first arrive in the small town near which the estate is located, Briseis and her parents worry that everyone seems so white, and Briseis brings up the movie Get Out and jokes that she doesn’t want a white woman living in her body. With a few words here and there, Bayron inserts social commentary in a way that feels so natural it almost seems inadvertent. Very efficient, however.

Because they’re new to the area, Briseis and her parents meet the secondary characters at the same time as the reader. We have the same information about the people they come across. We trust who they trust, dislike who they’re wary of. Not all are who they seem to be and those who apparently are might reveal themselves not to be in the next book. Whatever happens, I hope we get to see more of Marie, the gorgeous young woman who pikes Briseis’s interest, and her unusual bodyguard Nyx, as well as Mama Lucille, Dr Grant and her father the alchemist, and others.

I enjoyed Kalynn Bayron’s debut novel Cinderella is Dead a lot last summer, and was looking forward to her second book. I’m happy to say that I liked it even more and that the issues I had with the writing of the first book aren’t a problem with this one. This Poison Heart feels like The Little Shop of Horrors meets Percy Jackson, with Greek mythology mixed with killer plants and Black girl magic.

Bayron sets the atmosphere cleverly, slowly, quietly, until it becomes stifling and thrilling towards the end. Speaking of which, This Poison Heart is the first book in a series and ends on a stunning cliffhanger. I don’t know when the next installment is planned and I hope we won’t have to wait too long to find out what happens next.

I received a copy from the publisher and I am voluntarily leaving a review.
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