Warning: This post contains major spoilers in order to clearly explain writing tips and insights learned from this book.
On my never-ending quest to find audiobooks to fall in love with, I came across Poison Princess by Kresley Cole that was recommended to me by Audible. (For my readers, be sure to try out a free trial with 2 free books, click here!)
If I had found this book on my own, I would have honestly stopped within the first 10 minutes of the first chapter. But, this book is published by the Big 5, and I know there are elements I can learn by best selling authors published by the top in the industry. I normally like to read/listen to bestseller books that are a little more recent in their debut to find out what’s hot “now,” but this looked like a series I could learn from. Poison Princess was published by Simon & Schuster in 2012. I definitely learned a lot!
1. Broken Rule: First Chapter WAS NOT THE MAIN CHARACTER! But it worked.
The reason why I would have normally stopped was because the book started with a creepy, psycho character. Literally. We are introduced to the novel by a “mad scientist” who has kidnapped young girls to experiment on them, and he admits he enjoys their pain. That kind of character is not one I’d like to know more about, and usually a book starts with the main character. It became evident that this wasn’t the MC, but a type of prologue. We get to know a character who will later be revealed as one of the characters who have superpowers and will have been turned good or evil.
Starting the book with this character is interesting when looking back after having read the whole book and I can see why it worked. The story structure is we are at the “end” of the book and he has lured the true MC, Evie, to his lair. He pretends to be nice and asks her to tell him her story. That’s when we get to go back in time and live in her head as events unfold.
2. Story Structure Trend: The Chapter Countdown
Since this is a post-apocalyptic novel, it makes sense to have a countdown structure. “2 days before the Flash” makes it exciting. But, what I found unique is that the author explored the idea of “before” and “after” major events. When Evie has her first kiss with Jack, she also expresses how it was such a schism in her life. “Before” and “after” the kiss. I liked this idea that one event could change someone utterly and completely. It also made the structure of the apocalypse work, that life was one way, then one event happened and life was changed completely.
3. First Apocalyptic Story that Made me Feel the Loss
Even with the chapters bouncing back to the “present” time where Evie is telling her story to a psycho, I became involved with her life before the “Flash” that decimated the world. She had a boyfriend, a life, and her own problems with a dash of “am I crazy?” as her powers began to manifest. I was completely committed to that storyline even until the very last chapter that said “Day of the Flash.” It was hard to imagine how everything could change.
Then it did, and I felt the loss just as much as Evie did. I knew what her life was like and it was so hard to imagine everything so different. I had met all her friends and knew her teachers and had to let go of that just as she did. It was an incredible tactic to bring emotional oomph to the story. I feel this was one of the best elements of the story and is definitely a tactic other writers could implement in their own stories. It’s risky, in a way, because you have to make sure the reader will be willing to recommit to the new plot line and not just throw the book across the room in frustration. I’ll admit, a part of me wanted to do that, but because I was so invested I kept reading (listening) and enjoyed the book, even as everything changed.
4. Enlightened me that “Teen” genre does not mean holding back the adult elements
I’ll admit I was pretty surprised how adult the content felt in this story. Even though we never saw an outright “sex” scene, there were clear allusions to not only that going on, but rape as well. Rape is a dangerous thing to put in a novel, but in a post-apocalyptic world I would imagine it would be pretty unrealistic if it wasn’t a problem, especially because women are scarce in this novel. I’m not really sure why that is, if it’s because the author assumed that women would be the weaker gender and wouldn’t survive as well as men in a post-apocalyptic world, or if there’s another reason behind that. I’m only past the first book so maybe there’s more information on that later, but I kind of doubt it.
There’s also quite a bit of gore and the story has something like zombies, making it almost horror-like in some scenes and scary. I’ll admit, I wanted a light on!
I wanted to point this out that no matter your opinion on what teens should be reading, the publishing industry believes that they are young adults and that means they don’t want to be shielded from reality. This book could have just as well have been categorized as an adult novel, even though there was no true explicit content, but it was targeted for teens. Keep that in mind if you are writing a young adult novel and are leaving out realistic elements in order to keep the content “young” or censored. It might be hurting you. If you want to write more innocent content, I would recommend middle grade or a plot that doesn’t rely on those elements existing.
But, just to give you an idea, Hunger Games is about kids killing each other for sport, and it was marketed for teens. Actually, now that I mention that, the end of “Poison Princess” revealed that the story is about a collection of kids who get superpowers and must kill each other, the winner getting immortality until the “game” begins again. Just goes to show, no story is truly original, but without having written this post I wouldn’t have even made that connection!
5. World-Lore Introduced by Uninformed MC
I always try to pay attention how fantasy writers introduce complicated world-lore since that’s one of the more tricky aspects of the genre. In Poison Princess, world-lore is introduced excruciatingly slowly. The MC doesn’t know what she is and has vague memories of her grandmother who had apparently tried to teach her what she was. In addition to that, her mother decided that the grandmother was crazy and separated them, and put Evie into a mental treatment center over the summer when she started seeing things.
With this type of setting, the reader will naturally learn things as the MC does, making it one of the easier ways to introduce world-lore.
The major questions of the story get repeated over and over again. She notices that plants react to her, has long narrative periods of expressing her admiration of briars and tries to make connections with her weird dreams. These elements are expanded every chapter to reveal one thing at a time. I almost feel like the author made a bullet-point list of lore to be introduced per chapter so that by the end of the book everything would be clear.
I personally didn’t like the slow pace of world-lore introduction. Things felt repeated and I just wanted to know what was going on already. I feel like the author was trying to conceal things for a surprise effect, but by the time it was “revealed” I’d already gotten enough clues to figure it out and was like “She can control plants, SHOCKING!” … So I didn’t love how lore was introduced, but I’m paying attention, because again, this is a Big 5 book and it’s one of many ways to accomplish a well-written novel. I think it’s also important to note that this is a series, so the author has the luxury to explain small bits of lore at a time.
Overall, I enjoyed this book and I’ll be continuing the series. That’s mostly because it’s challenging to find audiobooks I like because I have to like the narrator too, and this one did a good job. I also appreciate that these are affordable audiobooks compared to others. The prose was well-written and the narrators had no difficulty with the words. You can tell when prose needs some polish because the narrator will have awkward pauses or have obvious difficulty smoothly saying the sentences. This had none of that and I was able to immerse myself into the story.