Title: The Poison Garden
Author: Sarah Singleton
Genre: YA – Mystery/Fantasy/Historical
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s
Publishing Date: 5 May 2009
Paperback: 288 Pages
Stand Alone or series: Stand Alone
Summary: It is the 1850’s, and a young boy, Thomas, leaves his family to be apprenticed to a pharmacist, at the behest of his dead grandmother. He also inherits a magical box from her, which provides him entry into a mysterious garden. But while visiting it, he sees a ghostly vision of his grandmother, who tells him she was poisoned, and warns him that he must find the person responsible, and save her precious garden. For she was one of five members of an arcane guild, each of whom cultivated an individual garden, mastering the art of poison, perfume and medicine. The guild members jostle for power as, one by one, they are murdered…can Thomas solve the mystery, before he in turn is threatened?
Why Did I Read The Book: I was intrigued by the blurb and by the review I read the My Favourite Books
The Poison Garden gloomily opens at a funeral: that of 10 year old Thomas Williams’ grandmother, a well-off lady whose family depended upon and whose major delight in life was her garden. A garden that Thomas visited constantly and this interest led him to observe his grandmother’s secretive behaviour and her creation of weird concoctions. This connection with this garden separates Thomas from the rest of the family on that day, as he leaves them all in the post-funeral party and goes for a stroll on it.
As he walks around he sees a strange, opened box and beyond what he knows is the limit of the garden, a much larger, strange one, full of wonders. And a man: a man named Blake who says he knew his granny. Thomas is also visited by a revenant girl – a ghostly appearance that presents herself as a young version of his grandmother and who tells him that she has been poisoned. Thomas and Blake embark in a disorienting adventure through The Garden of Dreams, which ends with Blake’s murder.
The next day, the night’s adventure seems like a dream. The family attends the reading of the Will and learn that other than some money and a few trinkets, most of Mrs Williams fortune is left to an unnamed person. There is a special clause for Thomas though: at the age of 14 he is to go to London to become a chemist’s apprentice and he is also awarded with the strange box – now effectively closed and which proves to be impossible to open.
Cut to 4 years later, Thomas now lives with Mr Albert Constantine in London, apprenticing as he was supposed to. One day, he is told to make a delivery to one Mrs Lawrence and there he meets a girl named Maud. Then he learns that both Mr Constantine and Mrs Lawrence are members of a guild, The Guild of Medical Herbalists of which his grandmother and Blake were also members. Each of them is responsible for a Garden and for a Box, seven of them altogether. And Thomas is to replace his grandmother as the keeper of the Garden of Dreams.
Soon after that, another person dies in mysterious circumstances and it is clear to Thomas that someone is out to get the members of the Guild – but the thing is, no one knows they exist which leads Thomas to suspect one of the members is the culprit. And that he may be in danger as well.
The Poison Garden is a wonderful mix of genres: Historical (the story is set in London, circa 19th century), Fantasy and Mystery and even a bit of Horror. I found myself completely engrossed by the mysterious Gardens and the boxes and by their keepers and their history of how they came across the existence of those.
However, despite my obvious interest in the overall story, I was oddly disappointed with the book. Because even though the story borders on several genres and moves effortlessly through them, at its centre, The Poison Garden is a whodunit. As whodunits go, this one is pretty solid BUT with so many possibilities in front of me, so many open roads to take, some of them pretty awesome, by the way, I felt the author limited herself to the mystery leaving everything else behind.
The author dips her fingers in mythology, religion, the discussion between Science x Magic, the wonders of special Gardens (that I wished I could know more about, like the Garden of Journeys and the Garden of Time for example) without really completely immersing herself in any of them. At one point in the story all of the characters stand at the intersection of all the gardens, the centre of it all, from where they can see all of them. I felt I stood in the same place whilst reading the book – I could see the doors to wonderful places but they were locked to me, expect for one. I wanted to know more about the Guild, about its members and even about the elusive and dying Guild of Funerary Violinists.
The book that Sarah Singleton wrote is by all means, a good, effective Mystery book. It just wasn’t the book I wished I was reading. Even though I completely understand that this feeling comes from my own unjust expectations, I still need to factor this in as I write my thoughts on the book, as it proved to be the reason why I felt myself detached from the story and its main character.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: the first part of the book, with Thomas and Black in the Garden of Dreams, the wonders of the place and the gothic feel of it were truly wonderful. Plus, the creepiness of the revenant, laughing and bleeding and the first peek at one of the Funerary Violinist were so atmospheric.
Verdict: a good YA whodunit with horror and fantasy elements that although not all that it could have been, it is still solid enough for mystery fans.
Rating: 6 –Good
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