The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan is the first in a trilogy about the medieval-fantasy, semi-political adventures of Wynter Moorehawke.
Blurb: A friend. A father. A kingdom. Which would you sacrifice?
When young Wynter Moorehawke returns to court with her dying father, she finds her old home shadowed with fear. The king has become a violent despot, terrorizing those he once loved. His son and heir Alberon has fled into exile and now there are whispers everywhere of rebellion. Meanwhile, Alberon’s half-brother Razi has been elevated to his throne. He struggles to meet his King’s demands while remaining loyal to his beloved brother and to his friend-Wynter.
Now, she must choose- her father or her dreams, her friend or her king, her duty… or her love.
The story begins with Wynter returning to her land after a 5 year absence, eager to see her princely childhood friends. Only, everything has radically changed. Alberon, the heir-apparent, has mysteriously disappeared. Once kindly King Jonathan appears to have gone somewhat insane, formally declaring Alberon dead & attempting to replace him with his illegitimate son, Razi, despite the outcry of the entire kingdom. The talking cats have been exterminated, ghosts are decreed to not exist, and death awaits anyone who attempts to converse with either. Wynter, together with Razi and Razi’s new best friend, Christopher Garron, must get to the bottom of the mysteries surrounding the castle – where is Alberon and why has he disappeared? Why is King Jonathan going off the deep end? And what does the rumored “bloody chair” have to do with Wynter’s ailing father & King Jonathan’s past & present.
The mystery & the relationships are what drives the story. Yes, the political intrigue is interesting – but it all starts to get repetitive about halfway through the book (and it’s a long book). But the relationships!
Wynter, Razi and Christopher have a friendship so strong it crosses social hierarchies into the bonds of family. They put their lives on the line repeatedly to protect each other, even when it means pushing someone away or hurting them for their own good. Each of them struggles with their own personal battles while busy looking after the others. This includes Wynter’s father juggling loyalty to king with friendship to the man himself, concern for the kingdom with his own need to heal; Razi struggling with his desire to be a healer and the lengths he feels he must go to as a prince, etc. There is a strong theme throughout the book of friendship vs. duty vs. caste vs. the greater good. I grew attached to every character quickly (outside of the king whom you just want to beat some sense into) and was very invested in the story as it progressed.
While romance is a very small part of the story, it does slowly develop toward the end between Wynter & Christopher. It’s a development I was torn about. Much as I truly liked Christopher by then, he was said to be a bit… promiscuous… throughout the first half of the book. His earlier lifestyle was something explained away by his being Merron (a people that seem a combination of Viking, Gypsy and the Irish language) but coming from my Christian perspective, I didn’t care for how laissez-faire it was treated. His relationship with Wynter was the cliched “different & real” but never went beyond a single kiss. Along those same line, I felt Wynter blurred certain physical boundaries awfully quickly (and comfortably) for someone who was raised to be so proper.
The Poison Throne ends with the trio separated and Wynter secretly off to find Alberon and hopefully discover the secret that is tearing the kingdom apart. Not a whole lot has actually happened or been explained – there’s been tons of activity but leading almost nowhere – the story is really only just beginning. The violence, though never too heavily blatant, is enough to give the entire book a very somber tinge. I’ve heard rumors the 2nd novel is worse and, if so, that may end up killing my interest in the trilogy. But I’m optimistic and looking forward to reading it. I hope the group reunites quickly so I can continue to see their dynamic and learn more about the secret, painful past Christopher is hiding. And, of course, so they can find Alberon and finally learning what’s going on. Even knowing full-well that if the 2nd is anything like the first, we may not learn much of anything until the final novel.
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