Review: The Poison Season by Mara Rutherford

Title: The Poison Season | Pub Date: 2022-12-06 | Pages: 400 | Genre: YA Fantasy | Source: NetGalley | Starred Review

The Poison Season starts out with an interesting concept. A group of people with unique beliefs about a magic forest they’re protecting from all the people in the world, who live on an island surrounded by a poison lake. Anyone that goes into the water dies a gruesome death. 

Enter Leelo. She’s not completely comfortable with all the death. If her people ever find someone on their island who doesn’t belong, they’re given a choice: the forest or the lake. And like the lake, the forest never leaves any stranger alive. She’s also burdened by the fact that her 12-year-old brother is about to be exiled. Anyone born on the island who doesn’t have magic is banished at the age of 12, allegedly to protect them from the dangerous singing that’s part of their rituals. 

But Leelo wonders if there might be more sinister motives. Couldn’t there be another way to protect people born there? Once banished, they never see their families again, which is a harsh thought for those so young. 

Her brother’s impending exile coincides with the execution of a former resident from the island who snuck back over the ice in winter so he could be with the girl he loved. For Leelo, these events prompt her to question the status quo, which explains why she helps a stranger who finds himself trapped on the island. 

A couple really stand out things about The Poison Season are the character arcs for Leelo and Jaren. Each has their own journey, and the world building hints at truths to be revealed. It was easy to connect to them and want to see them get a happy ending. There were layers of actions and motives to unravel among the supporting characters. 

There was a lot of history informing current decisions, a lot of guilt, and a lot of resentment. This all added to the tension in the story, primarily because it added to Leelo’s conflict. Despite her frustrations with her people and their ways, leaving wasn’t an easy choice because she needed to care for her sick mother. And yet she found herself in love with a foreigner who’d be executed if caught, adding to the suspense of this story with forbidden love. 

All of the threads build up to an intense climax that’s satisfying and ties up the central threads. The book does carry on after that, giving a complete resolution about various subplots. I’m not sure all of that was necessary, but it definitely leaves the reader completely satisfied about the outcome.

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