Book Review: The Wandering Poisoner by Christopher Keene

There is something just wonderful about dashing off on the grand adventure that an epic fantasy brings. Add in mysterious plagues, poisons and secrets, and fun characters and I am sold. Such it is with The Wandering Poisoner, the first in Christopher Keene’s new series.

1. Thoughts on the plot

This book follows Holt Gnarl, a poisoner hired to save the daughter of a duke from a potentially deadly poison. To do so, he must travel across the country to find the cure. The only problem is that the duke’s other daughter, Riva, is determined to go with him. Between Riva, her overprotective guard Fade, and the quiet archer Cabe, Holt has his hands full. When they encounter the plague, though, there might be more than dealing with his unexpected feelings for the duke’s daughter to reckon with.

This book is very interesting as far as plot goes. It moves from plot point to plot point very quickly, but without making the pacing seem frenetic. I kept expecting the story to explode, only to be led into another interesting “side-quest” or exploration of Holt’s past. And while there wasn’t a massive amount of time spent on each individual plot point, I think everything flowed together quite well and was very coherent.

2. Thoughts on the characters

I really liked Holt. I think he was intelligent without being arrogant (except when well deserved). He had just enough snark to balance out the more serious aspects of the book. I found him compelling through all the various discoveries about his past and the adventures he faced. I will say that he was a bit of a ponce when it came to communicating with Riva, but honestly, even that was done in such a way that was more, “Oh, you silly man” than anything off-putting. 

As for Riva, I initially didn’t like her at all. I thought she was impulsive and foolish and that her desires to come on the adventure were more selfish than otherwise. However, as the story went on and she got a bit more seasoning, I think she grew into a very interesting and complex character and I liked her quite a bit.

Fade is a bit of a mystery to me, but I think the more we see of him in future books, the more we will know and I am quite eager to learn more.

3. Favourite part

I think my favourite part has to be the various encounters with predators. I think those scenes really added quite a bit of drama to the story and moved the character development forward without feeling forced. Also, that bit that happened with Fade was a great twist!

4. Critique

I don’t have anything really big to critique about this book. I was initially a little confused at the writing style, since I expected the detailed, flowery language that most epic fantasies provide. But I think the more direct style works really well for this story and these characters. And while I would have preferred that the ending happen once all the initial threads of the story were tied off rather than stopping in what felt like the middle of the journey, I am also aware that this is an epic fantasy and the scale of events is quite large. They will not fit easily into one book. So, actually, the story stopped precisely where it was meant to stop (though I want the next book, now, please).

Overall, I would say that The Wandering Poisoner was a very entertaining book with intriguing characters, a fast paced plot, and a world of many fascinations, all of which led me wanting more. Very good.