**I received a free copy of this book from Xpresso Book Tours and the author in exchange for an honest review.**
Poison by Lan Chan
(Wind Dancer #1)
Publication date: September 1st, 2015
Genres: Dystopia, Young Adult
Trigger Warnings: Violence, death, gun violence, gore, blood
Pages: 349 pgs.
Since the night her mother was murdered, sixteen-year-old Rory Gray has known one truth: There are no good Seeders.
In post-apocalyptic Australia, the scientists known as Seeders have built a Citadel surrounded by food-producing regions and populated with refugees from the wars and famine. To maintain their control, the Seeders poisoned the land and outlawed the saving of seeds.
It’s been six years since Rory graced the Seeders’ circus stage as the Wind Dancer and still the scars on her body haven’t healed. Even worse are the scars on her heart, left by a Seeder boy who promised to protect her.
Now the Seeders are withholding supplies from Rory’s region for perceived disobedience. Utilising the Wanderer knowledge she received from her mother, Rory must journey to the Citadel through uninhabitable terrain to plead for mercy.
However, the Citadel isn’t as Rory remembered. The chief plant geneticist is dying and rumours fly that the store of viable seed is dwindling. The Seeders are desperate to find a seed bank they believe Rory can locate, and they will stop at nothing to get it.
To defy the Seeders means death. But Rory has been close to death before–this time she’s learned the value of poison.
Recommended for fans of The Hunger Games, Divergent, strong protagonists, minority characters, circuses and nature!
Lan Chan is a writer, gardener and professional procrastinator based in Melbourne, Australia. She is still waiting for her super powers to manifest but until then she writes young adult novels featuring strong female protagonists, minority characters and has a particular interest in dystopias and urban fantasy. Lan’s debut novel POISON, the first in her WIND DANCER series is due for release in September 2015.
Ever since the advent of Suzanne Collins’ wildly popular series, The Hunger Games (maybe you’ve heard of it?), dystopian novels have been all the rage. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a work that doesn’t feel somewhat like a rip-off of Katniss Everdeen’s struggle against the Capitol. When I first read the synopsis for Lan Chan’s debut novel, Poison, I can’t say that I wasn’t prepared to be thrust into yet another round of “the chosen one” working to personally uproot the establishment. We don’t need another Divergent, Matched, or insert-lackluster-book-series here clogging up the shelves of an already over-saturated genre. But, somehow, Poison seems to find its own unique voice amongst the chatter. Granted, there are some missteps along the way, but the book is an enjoyable ride overall.
Set ten years after the brutal murder of her mother, Poison chronicles the struggles of Aurora “Rory” Gray to find where she belongs in Gideon’s Landing. Ever since a global famine, agriculture as we know it has been completely eradicated in favor of more standardized, grotesquely genetically-modified means of crop production. After her secret store of crops is destroyed, Rory’s life is quickly thrust into overdrive as she has no other choice but to go on a good old fashioned Australian walkabout to the Citadel, home of the Seeders who killed her mother so many years ago. However, her past as the acrobatic star of the Citadel’s traveling circus can either help or hurt her as she tries to prove that she — and other Wanderer descendants — shouldn’t go discounted.
As a huge fan of diversity in YA novels, one thing that I do have to celebrate here is the racial diversity in Chan’s characters. Rory herself is of Japanese descent through her mother, several other characters — like Leura — are of Aboriginal origins, all of which provide a nice retreat from the majority of white protagonists in YA. Not only that, but the characters aren’t presented at all using racial stereotypes to establish their place in the world (what’s good, Eleanor and Park). It truly is refreshing to see characters judged on their actions rather than the color of their skin. Additionally, Chan’s take on the genre is really quite interesting. I enjoyed the more agricultural approach to dystopia rather than the standard “The world’s been ravaged by war so…here’s a dictatorship coming in to whip everything back into line.” Her creativity in incorporating the seed famine along with messages about the dangers of genetic modification a la Monsanto helps to bring to life the same debate going on in present day; it’s not a topic one would usually expect to see come up in YA, but I’m all for it.
Chan’s writing style is definitely one that makes it easy to become immersed into the world she’s crafting. I could feel the drop in my stomach from the dizzying heights at Rory’s first time back at the circus, see the light bluish glow emanating from the flowers in the clearing, smell the acrid stench of poison from the more dangerous plants. She spares no details and is almost on a mission to make sure her readers understand exactly what is happening to her characters. Her attention to the minutiae in Rory’s story is what eventually makes it so gripping as things start to progress.
However, that is, if you can make it through the incredibly slow, dragging start. There were times in the beginning of my reading Poison that I just felt ready to give up about thirty or forty pages in. I tried reading on my lunch break, in the morning before work, even, at one point, in between sets at a Panic! at the Disco concert, but I wasn’t able to find footing in the story until I had no other choice but to read through it on a long car ride to South Carolina. Once I trudged through the extremely slow, arduous beginning, I found myself lost in the story. However, it shouldn’t take the first thirteen or so chapters for one’s readers to truly find themselves engaged in the tale.
Furthermore, there were parts of the story that felt so jarring and disjointed that I found myself going back wondering when they were going to be addressed again. At one point, a character close to Rory is kidnapped, but we never hear about that incident again? What about her family back in Gideon’s Landing back when Harlan forces her to make an impossible choice? (I’m trying my best to be non-spoilery, y’all.) I understand that this book is the first of a series, but usually major things that happen within the course of a book are usually addressed later on in the same book. These aren’t even the only two instances of dropped plots: there are other forgotten characters, other forgotten incidents, other things that should have been addressed by Chan’s attention to detail.
Overall, Poison truly is an interesting, unique take on the ubiquitous dystopian genre that we, as readers, find ourselves crawling toward with each new release. Chan’s descriptors and language make it a breeze for readers to immerse themselves into Rory’s plight. However, there are some major setbacks in pacing and dropped plot lines that make the book good, rather than great. I’m looking forward to the second installment to see if we ever reach some resolution on those dropped plots.
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