Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston
The world we are living in is rife with crisis and bubbling with change. This novel landed in my lap at the perfect time. As I read, I drew many parallels to our unpredictable lives in 2020. The standalone novel, Master of Poisons written by Andrea Hairston is a richly diverse epic fantasy saga. The story is filled with familiar fantasy accoutrement that is woven together with African influences. The book raised many poignant questions for me that are resonant with our lives today. What are you willing to give up in order to change the future? How do you stand up to corruption? How long can our planet withstand our blatant disregard for the warnings it's presenting to us?
The African-inspired world Hairston created stands on the precipice of destruction. A poisoned desert is destroying their physical world and the world found in dreams and hearts, the Smokeland. The leaders who are supposed to be looking out for their people’s best interests only seem to care about their own gain. Djola, The Master of Poisons and the right hand of the Emperor is willing to give up everything to save their world. The rest of the council is unwilling to see past their own self-interests and limiting beliefs. Djola sets off alone in search of the cure for the poisoned desert but discovers so much more.
In another part of the world there is a young garden Sprite Awa, who is trying to find where she belongs after being abandoned by everyone she ever loved. Her journey with the griots expands her knowledge of the world and its stories, but it also shows her the measure of her own inner strength. The epic journey of these characters was enough to pull me through to the end of the novel. Yet, at times I found myself referring back to the glossary, and rereading passages to gain further understanding. The world building was an immensely impressive feat that at times borders on overly complex. There were moments of brilliant prose that kept me aching for more. The chapters written from the view of the animals were always captivating, and the songs and spells woven into the text were beautiful.
Master of Poisons is a novel that is worth a second read to fully gain an understanding of the layers of subtext. The magic system used is unique and unlike anything I have ever read. It gives me hope for the continued creativity of the fantasy genre. I truly appreciated the subtle way in which Hairston integrated issues of today without feeling as if I was being taught a lesson. Her ability to construct such a detailed world was inspiring to me as both a reader and a writer. I am looking forward to exploring her other works.