The Poison Diaries: Nightshade by Maryrose Wood
Historical Fantasy, 279 pages
September 1st 2011 by HarperCollins Children's Books
Just to warn you: there really is no way to write a review of a 2nd book in a series without revealing some secrets from the first book. This is especially true where this series is concerned, so this review will contain spoilers for book one!
I mentioned in my review of The Poison Diaries that I liked it better after having read Nightshade. It brought some things together for me, but mostly I think it was because the ending to TPD takes such a strange turn that I think your mind needs time to adjust, and there just wasn't time before the book ended. I mean, yes, you've been somewhat prepared for talking plants from Weed's revelations, but then to actually have plants talking - and plotting murder and world domination - is just a little strange. It takes a big adjustment. A lot of willing suspension of disbelief. But by book 2, it almost seems natural. Partly, I think this is because not just poisonous plants are doing the talking. You start to get a feel for the different "personalities" of the plants, and they become more like characters. But I think it's also because of the way it's narrated - more in Weed's voice, and where Jessamine is concerned, she's no longer fevered, so it reads less...manic, I guess. Whatever the reason, it works now, and makes the ending of TPD go down a little better.
Where it seemed to touch on magical realism in book one, I think it takes a pretty firm turn into magical realism in Nightshade. It also goes really, really dark. Wood explores some pretty deep, scary waters for a YA book, which, coupled with the magical realist feel, is really interesting. When you think "dark" in YA, you tend to think emotional contemporary blahblah. This is a completely different kind of dark, a story of control and manipulation and completely losing oneself to it. It's very Gothic feeling, and I kept thinking as I was reading that it would make such a good, strange little movie. (You know, if you could figure out a way to make Oleander scary and not just silly onscreen.) It's told in that delicious car-crash-in-slow-mo way that just grips you and makes you certain that it's going to be a first-rate tragedy. [I mean Tragedy-capital-T; you know, the cosmic irony, world is against us, every step I take in what I think is the right direction makes everything worse...that type of thing.]
Part of what makes this work so well is the split narration between Jessamine, who is slowly losing herself with the help of Oleander, and Weed, who is coming into his own. I wasn't a big fan of the split narration in book one, but here it really works. There is good balance to their story arcs, and getting to see every false step from two angles, seeing it all plotted out by Oleander, and how successful he is at pulling the strings, really contributes to the Gothic tragedy feeling. I also just plain liked Weed's voice in this, so I was happy to be in his thoughts and have his world opened up more. He keeps it all together, but it's Jessamine who steals the show. I mentioned at the end of my TPD review that book 2 is definitely worth reading because Jessamine is kickass, and I meant that. She is...dark and dangerous and a complete 180 from the charmingly naive girl she was in the beginning. And what's more, it's believable. It's sometimes painful to watch, and you sometimes want to cheer for her and sometimes want to yell at her, and it all just works to push us toward an ending you can't help but fear.
As for the ending itself, I have to say I loved it. Now, this comes with a caution, because, just as in book one, I think this is the type of ending that may really piss people off. It is certainly not for fans of the cliff-hanger ending. But, going back to the movie comparison, the whole thing feels very episodic and it works for me. The feel of the ending is really haunting and an interesting blend of optimism and pessimism. It's perfectly in keeping with the darker tone of the book, and I respect it as a result. And I have to say, without giving anything away, the final image is just... just brilliant.
So if you've read book one and were on the fence about whether to continue the series, I would strongly urge it. It's really going some interesting places, and I think you'll like the two books almost as a set. If you haven't read book one, but ignored my spoilers warning and read this review, and now have your interest piqued (talking plants? Oleander? Tragedy?), I would strongly recommend picking up both books at the same time, so that you can head straight into Nightshade after finishing TPD. Don't worry, they're both quick reads...