Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Book Review: The Poisons We Drink

The Poisons We Drink 
by Bethany Baptiste
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I tried very hard to like this.
The overall idea of the way magic works, the price the magic user has to pay, and the morality involved with using said magic should have made for an excellent novel. (This is the only reason this books gets two stars and not one). Bethany Baptiste had an opportunity to really send a message to her readers in this YA/Teen novel that sometimes the ‘right’ decision is hard. It could have promoted self reflection, critical thinking, and the difficulty of determining morality. Instead, the best word I can come up with to describe the justifications for the choices made in The Poisons We Drink is problematic.

There is blatant hypocrisy from: toting freedom, free will, and autonomy, alongside binding blood oaths and love potions (given to people unknowingly!) without any morality being addressed. Bethany Baptiste addresses this once (maybe twice), early on, as the lead gal has a conscience momentarily. But then it’s gone and it’s like the entire book is built off the premise that our leading character crew ‘know best’. This kind of attitude is what leads (eventually) to discrimination, egoism, and a divided society!! How ironic that in a book about bringing down the egoist barriers they literally put up new ones that seem okay; but only if you 100% believe in our characters being ‘right’. Sorry but that doesn’t work for me.

Wheres the Remorse?
Additionally, there is little to no remorse (especially towards the end) for the usage of magic that takes away free will. From the beginning we are told that the oppression of the magical community is abhorrent, the proposed registration act is a disgusting attempt to control people, and that the world assumes magic users are dangerous because of their inherent powers which is unfair. I agree these are all awful things and solid themes that should be discussed. Instead of critical representation and questions we are given a slew of excuses for why it’s okay to hurt others to gain something important. Even going so far as to say:
”Only monsters get things done.”
Not only is reality not that simple; but I’m not convinced half our ‘good’ characters are in the right! If you are going to write YA/Teen books then you should consider your core audience and how impressionable they are. Choosing to be awful as the only way to survive is not what I want any child, teen or, for that matter, adult thinking is necessary. This argument is not an acceptable justification to make potions that take away people’s free will and convince them of things that aren’t true, or make them flat out follow orders.

A continuing theme in the end is that It’s okay to do these awful things as they are in the name of good. It’s not okay to use similar tactics to control others just because they are using them to oppress you! This seems obvious to me, but as of late there are a lot of YA/Teen books (Iron Widow comes to mind) that seem to tote power or control as equality. This book even goes so far as to justify someone’s persecution because they did other ‘bad things’ even if they didn’t do the thing they were initially accused of and received punishment for! (I could also rant about fair justice and not prejudging situations or people; but this review is long enough already!)

The Writing
Moving on to the actual structure and writing of the book. I really disliked the narrator of the audiobook. Some of her character voices were annoying and at times ridiculous. It’s perhaps worth noting I’m pretty new to audiobooks (only my 8th ever) but I just couldn’t handle the narration; so I switched to an ebook halfway through to complete The Poisons We Drink. I had hoped that the issues I was starting to have with pacing and immature writing (don’t tell, show!) were partially because of the audiobook. Sadly they were not.

This book goes from being boring, to sudden activities that knocks you over the head. However each step of the way events are convenient and clearly fits into a pre-set puzzle. The plot is so transparent that the ‘twist’ fell flat for me. In no way did the twist feel smart, clever, or even all that unique for me. Unfortunately the one emotion I did have upon finishing this novel was relief. I was relieved to have it be over, thankful I get to post a review about it it’s issues, and ready to tell folks not to bother with this problematic story.

Sorry to hate on this
I know many of you love this one and I’ll probably get comments about how I’m being too harsh or otherwise judgemental. I’m truly sorry you may feel that way.

For me, I cannot in good conscience endorse problematic stories. You can be a good person who gets caught up in a bad situation (which is the attempted argument in this book) but you don’t get to then continue being awful ‘just because’ once the immediate situation is resolved. What the story should be about is feeling remorse for your actions and how to come to terms with what you did (accepting the terms NOT justifying them). Think of the third Hunger Games novel where Katniss struggles to reconcile her numerous kills even though without them she would not have survived. This is what I think novels like this should address and struggle with because it’s realistic and sets up serious critical thinking by the reader.

Needless to say I will not be reading book 2 in which (I assume) our gal and her crew rise to more power to further their interests and toss aside anyone (using a potion of course) that is in their way. No thanks.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

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