By Maryrose Wood Based on a concept by the Duchess of Northumberland
Published by HarperCollins ISBN 9780007354436
Alnwick Castle in the north of England, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, is one of the locations used as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films. It is a beautiful and mysterious place, where the dukes of Northumberland have lived for more than 700 years. The present duchess attracts many tourists to the castle because of her unusual hobby.
The Duchess' fascination with and knowledge of poisonous plants have led to a very unusual garden being created in the grounds of the castle. For the past 14 years, Her Ladyship has been cultivating and nurturing the famous Poison Garden. It is in that intriguing location that Maryrose Wood has set her gothic romance, The Poison Diaries.
The plants in the Duchess's garden have both the power to cure and to kill. The strychnine and the hemlock plants may look innocent enough, but they are deadly. Plants such as these have been used for centuries as powerful poisons.
Jessamine lives with her father in a house that used to be a monastery chapel. The monks who lived there are long gone and the monastery buildings stand in shadowy ruins. For centuries, the land around the monastery was alive with farms and villages but, like the monks, these are no more.
Life is lonely for Jessamine, but she has her gardens to watch over and tend. Her father is an alchemist and he grows herbs and plants from which he makes ointments and medicines. Nature provides almost everything that Jessamine and her father need.
Jessamine has spent all her life learning about plants. But her father has never allowed her into the walled poison garden. He understands what the plants here can do and he has forbidden his daughter to enter.
The proprietor of the local madhouse arrives one day with a scruffy and silent teenage boy called Weed. He tells the alchemist that the boy has a mysterious understanding of plants and suggests he could well prove to be a valuable assistant.
Jessamine's father agrees to give the lad a temporary home, knowing nothing about him. But slowly, Weed opens up to the lonely Jessamine, and what he reveals is disturbing. Plants can communicate with Weed, and not just the ones with pretty flowers and the ones that can heal. The deadly killers want a slice of the action as well.
The Poison Diaries is a carefully written and unusual novel. Jessamine is a bit of a watery character at times, but Wood's style and imagery keep the interest going until the secrets are all revealed.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com