Books Private! Stay Away! Keep Out! Diaries Special Reading Themes Young Adult (YA) Literature

The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood and the Duchess of Northumberland

“The plants themselves gave me a cure for that: They taught me to bury myself when I need to regain my strength. It is what they do—return to the ground, rest, and begin again.”

When I found this book in the community library, I thought that it would prove to be a good breather from reviewing diary-themed picture books – and it seems like a light-enough YA lit for me to really sit through and write about.

The use of the Diary format in the narrative

Similar to the diary-themed books that I have just read for this month’s feature, Poison Diaries begins with a date (15th of March) and a journal entry detailing the weather, a description of the surroundings and the environment, and an overall sense of the vastness of the place and the utter sense of alone-ness that Jessamine Luxton, the protagonist, feels. This is best seen in the first few pages of the book:

“I sometimes worry I might lose my speaking voice completely from lack of use. Let me test it. ‘Hello.’ ‘Hello?’ Feh! I sound like a frog. A tincture of lemon balm and anise would cure this broken voice of mine. Or someone to talk to. That would do it too.” (p. 9)

Not even halfway through the book, I thought that the diary-format did not seem as authentic as I had expected. There were quite a number of dialogues, which are hardly what you would strictly find in a journal. There is that struggle between maintaining the integrity of the first-person voice as evident in a journal entry OR telling a story the way it is ordinarily told sans the diary. Hence, apart from the first paragraph which is italicized in the initial section of each chapter, the rest of the narrative does not seem like something you would find out of the pages of a diary. Add the fact that somewhere close to the end, a twist happens (one which I would try hard not to ruin for you, dear readers), and a different voice in the poison diaries takes over. The inconsistency in the storytelling suggests a kind of looseness in the writing style that would need to be tightened further for it to be truly effective. I suppose the strength of this stylistic technique in weaving the story (diary-writing) was not really utilized to its fullest.

Characters and General Theme

There were only three major characters in the whole story. Thomas Luxton, the short-tempered, emotionally-distant apothecary – essentially a gardener who mixes herbs and uses them to cure ailments and strange illnesses – and frequently travels all around London to tend to the sick; Jessamine Luxton, the apothecary’s daughter who yearns for companionship and a being to connect with since his father is frequently called away, and though physically present he remains emotionally absent; and yes, the strangely handsome Weed who possesses a dark and brooding secret, haunted by his past, and tormented by his own demons.

A great deal of the story could be characterized as a coming-of-age tale (with a supposedly-gothic and surprisingly-supernatural twist somewhere close to the end) whereby Jessamine feels the first stirrings of attraction towards another. However, I find it just a tad too maudlin and gushy for my taste – but hey, I’m thirty-something (shhh) – perhaps, others would prefer this kind of narrative. It reminds me a little bit of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight – except that this one situates the storyline sometime during the 18th century.

Strengths and Pitfalls

I like how the various plants were mentioned with such clarity and … yes, authenticity – if the diary-stylistic-technique was a little bit contrived, the knowledge about plants was not. I liked reading about foxglove, moonseed, oleander and very curious names of powerful plants that have the power to cure or kill a person. It lent the book a credible and unique quality to it, otherwise it would have been dismissed as another sappy teenage love story – that has twilight-ish components to it.

I also like the description of the grounds and the gardens and the historical significance of Hulne Abbey (where Jessamyn and her father live). Given such a view and such magnificent history behind any place, I am certain that the overwhelming urge to write something related to it would continually bug anyone who has a literary heart.

I think it started off really nicely – like most teenage-themed-gothic-bordering-on-supernatural novels, it has the capacity to engage one to read further (one could very-well dismiss and skip over some parts while jumping onto the twists and turns of the tale – however, this proved to be quite a herculean task especially as the story is about to end).

I found Weed’s talent unique – I am a fan of Heroes and other Supernatural series and this must be the one time that I came across his unique attributes. I just felt that the writing got too carried away near the end that it hardly seems believable any longer – whereas there was still an air of possibility [however remote] somewhere in the beginning.


The book is a collaborative effort between the Duchess of Northumberland/Mistress of Alnwick Castle (used as a film location from Harry Potter to Elizabeth to Becket to Blackadder – click here to be taken to their website) –

– and Maryrose Wood who has extensive playwrighting experience (she has performed, directed and written for theater) before she started concentrating on writing teen novels. Her website could be found here.

To have a clearer vision of what Poison Diaries is all about, I have included their promotional video here. From watching this short video clip and reading my review, I am sure you could form your own conclusion/opinion of whether it’s something that would tickle your fancy.

References for some of the images:
Hulne Abbey ruins (aerial view) –
Rocks in Hulne Abbey –

The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood

Amazon | Book Depository

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

2 comments on “The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood and the Duchess of Northumberland

  1. Mary of GatheringBooks

    I don’t think I’d personally get myself a copy of this. I have to admit maybe it I were younger books like Twilight (and its variants) would probably appeal to me given the supernatural and gothic theme. Given this review, I feel like I won’t like Poison Diaries either. I think the biggest challenge for other writers that came after Harry Potter and Twilight is to be different despite the similarity in theme. At the moment I feel everything that has supernatural elements will be compared against these two series. However, I’ll take Harry Potter any day. 🙂


    • myragarcesbacsal

      Was it very obvious that I didn’t like it? I did try hard to be quite neutral. I am aware that there may be several who may be into this kind of thing, and I wanted to be sensitive. Haha. The book has its nice moments, particularly during the earlier chapters. But yes, I do miss HP. =) Movie’s about to come out. =)


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