This has been loitering on my TBR pile for some time – I’m not sure why I passed it over, but as I started reading, I realised I’ve been missing out on a treat…
Young Wynter Moorehawke returns to court with her dying father. But her old home is cloaked in fear. Once benevolent King Jonathon is now a violent despot, terrorising his people while his son Alberon plots a coup from exile. Then darkness spreads as the King appoints Alberon’s half-brother Razi as heir. Wynter must watch her friend obey his father’s untenable commands,, as those they love are held to ransom. And at the heart of matters lies a war machine so lethal that none dare speak of it.
This book hits the ground running and doesn’t let up. Kiernan’s accomplished storytelling sucked me in from the first page with her sympathetic protagonist, Wynter. In fact, the world was so well established, I needed to double-check that it was, indeed, the first book in the series. I love the tense, claustrophobic atmosphere Kiernan generates within the castle where Wynter was brought up, which has dramatically changed, as the King is bringing pressure to bear on Razi, his ‘spare’ to step up and replace the vacant heir spot now that his elder brother has disappeared… While many fantasy books are set within the medieval, feudal system, it’s rare that I get the full sense of what absolute power means on a day to day basis as depicted in The Poison Throne.
The cast of supporting characters add depth and vibrancy to this tense adventure. While I enjoyed Razi, the reluctant prince who really wants to be a doctor, and his enigmatic companion, my favourite after Wynter is her desperately ill father, Lorcan Moorehawke, Lord Protector and master craftsman. He expends the last of his strength to bring his young apprentice daughter back home to safety. Or so he thought…
I always enjoy a well written, complex antagonist who can elicit my understanding, if not approval, for his actions. King Jonathan certainly ticks that box – he is in a hard place. The fact that he far too readily turns to violence and force to get his own way is what makes him the baddie, even though he’d rather not be… The relationship between him and Lorcan Moorehawke is an interesting, nuanced one that Wynter doesn’t fully understand – and that’s fine.
All in all, this is an accomplished, sure-footed start to a really interesting fantasy adventure and one of my promises to myself for 2016 is to get hold of the next book, The Crowded Shadows.