Kresley Cole YA, you say? That’s all I needed to know about Poison Princess before nabbing it for my collection. I own Cole’s entire “Immortals After Dark” series of romance novels (a whopping 14 books strong!) simply because she knows how to weave a damn good yarn. You’ll find no curious virgins unwittingly ruined by infamous rakes in these books; the IAD series is chock-full of Valkyrie, vampires, werewolves (be still, my heart!), witches, demons and many more other-worldly beings who’ve been kicking ass and taking names for millennia and (in most cases) are beginning to find their eternal mates in their sworn enemies. Kresley Cole isn’t just one of my favourite romance authors; she’s just straight up one of my faves overall.
Needless to say, I had high expectations of Poison Princess, book one of “The Arcana Chronicles” and Cole’s first foray into young adult fiction. Here we meet Evie Greene, a 16-year old high school student leading a charmed life on a sprawling estate in Louisiana. She’s recently been plagued by strange and violent hallucinations and, even worse, she’s being forced to interact with a new student at school, Jackson Deveaux. He’s a tall, sexy, flask-swigging, motorcycle-riding, womanizing Cajun delinquent from the wrong side of the bayou who makes no secret of ogling her at every opportunity.
Then, catastrophe. Evie’s hallucinations turn out to have been visions of an apocalypse in which she seems to play a key role as part of something called the “Arcana”. She loses almost everyone she knew and loved in the Flash, and eventually teams up with her old foe, Jackson, to help her find her grandmother in North Carolina. Along the way, Evie discovers other “Arcanas” with special powers, and learns that they are all playing out an ancient prophecy wherein they are meant to reenact the ultimate battle between good and evil. But who is on which side?
As I said, I had high expectations of this book, and I wasn’t disappointed. I didn’t just read into the wee hours of the night; I never actually went to bed, and read through the night until I was forced to dress for work. The reasons why I love this book so much are threefold:
1) The Characters
The character of Evie is actually really well done. At first, I was quite surprised to find Evie so helpless and doe-eyed after the Flash (Cole’s IAD ladies are just so fierce!), but Evie’s life beforehand really was “charmed” so it’s understandable that she’d be a little useless at first. I stress “at first”, because Evie really comes into her own by the end of the book, to a frightening degree. Her growth is well paced and makes sense; what’s more, Evie doesn’t comes off as spoiled so much as naive, which makes her very likeable. And when you first learn what she can do you’re like “Wow, that’s pretty cool!” But then when you find out in the final pages what she’s fully capable of, you realize (as Cole likes to put it in the IAD books) that Evie is someone with whom one does not fuck.
And then there’s Jackson, my newest book crush. Look at him…. This bad boy just smoulders right off the page. He makes me wish that I lived in the bayou so I could shack up with a Cajun badass with a purring motorcycle, who races against time to find me and save me from slavers and rapists because he always secretly loved me. In case you didn’t guess, that’s what happens in the book. Sure, Jackson can be a stubborn asshole with a special talent for saying the wrong thing to Evie and getting them both upset (he’s a man, after all). But if Cole is good at one thing, it’s writing flawed heroes who you just can’t help but adore because they love their conjoints so much they would readily die for them if it means their safety. To which I say,
2) The Plot
The concept behind Poison Princess is unique, which shouldn’t be surprising because in the ever-expanding field of paranormal romance, Cole consistently manages to keep her books fresh and interesting. No fey or sparkly vampires grounding this story; the “Arcana Chronicles” are based on the Tarot. Evie is the Empress card, imbued with phytomanipulation (she commands plant-life) and, all told, she should encounter 22 other “Major Arcana” over the course of the series. Each Arcana have their own special powers, and each plays a (still nebulous) role in the battle between good and evil. Evie herself could save the world or destroy it, and it will be interesting to see which way she leans in the sequel. You can check out the rest of the cards on the Arcana Chronicles website! The cards with no current description are for characters we’ll meet in future.
3) The Emotion
Kresley Cole has the power to convey emotion like few other authors. Her characters are so easy to like and understand that you can really get into their skin. For me, this means that when Cole writes an argument, my heart rate speeds up with anger; when scenes get heated, she can make me squirm; and when someone is insulted, I feel the sting of betrayal myself. Her books offer an emotional roller coaster ride, and there are plenty of gut-twisting turns to be found in Poison Princess. Jackson and Evie are hopelessly clueless as to what the other one is feeling, which results in a lot of stupid and hurtful things being said, and every one of them made me upset too. It was beautiful!
Book Two, Endless Knight, is set for release this October, and I can’t wait!!!! Evie comes more fully into her powers, and she meets Death (presumably, the blond creeper on the cover). Death and the Empress apparently share a romantic history, which Evie doesn’t remember but Death can’t forget. Except I don’t understand how this is possible, because Death runs around in Poison Princess promising her imminent demise. I personally wouldn’t cosy up to that, but I’ll sure enjoy reading about it!
Kresley Cole also has a main website, which groups everything together. If I haven’t yet made it clear, I really recommend anything she’s written. Just grab a book at random, and I’m sure you’ll understand.