After reading the back cover of To Poison a King, I thought I had a good idea of where this story would go. I had the formula mapped out in my head and was convinced I knew how everything would play out. But S.G. Prince said, “To hell with your preconceived notions!” and decided to write a lovely story about the relationship between a healer and her king. I admit I am humbled and delighted by how original this story was.
The king has been poisoned at the hand of his royal healers. No one knows it was Selene who administered the poison or that her mother concocted the scheme, but her mother flees into the night anyway. With the kingdom unaware of who dealt the devastating blow, Selene must take up her mantle as the royal healer and undo the damage she has caused. But it will be no easy task going up against a young, callous king who begins to shun the world and hide his paralysis. He is a cruel patient that refuses her ministrations, but Selene is determined to treat him and secretly find a cure for the unknown poison her mother created.
I had a rough entry into this book because it took some getting used to Prince’s storytelling cadence. The story is told from Selene’s POV, which is a somewhat dry and straightforward perspective. Her POV is awkward at first, but it eventually smooths out as we come to understand Selene better. Originally I was also not a fan of the abrupt scenes that ended mid-chapter, and by the time I hit 50 pages, I was certain I wouldn’t like this book. But as I continued, I began to jive with the book’s rhythm more and discovered that Prince makes the small moments matter. The quick vignettes were jarring at first, but after 100 pages I could see how the short windows into a scene were slowly laying the foundation of Selene’s story. I am shocked at how much my feelings changed during the course of this book, and if you find yourself faltering at the beginning I encourage you to continue on until you hear the music better.
When the story begins, Selene is 14 years old, but don’t let that fool you into thinking this belongs in the Young Adult category. Selene is an accomplished healer whose introverted tendencies make her socially awkward, but other than that she acts beyond her years and handles everything with a grim determination. This leads me to my gripe with the age gap in this story. Selene starts off at 14 and the king is 23. At this time in their relationship, it is very much defined by their role as healer and king. Although nothing romantic occurs between the two until she is “of age” in their world, she is still only 17 being pursued by a grown man. It’s gross, and oftentimes the age gap was forgotten because Selene and Elias do not match their ages at all. When I reflect on Selene’s actions, they are not ones I would typically associate with someone so young. I question Prince’s choice to make Selene act older than her age. It appears that Prince wanted Selene to be young enough to explain away her compliant obedience to her mother’s poisoning scheme. However, as soon as Selene’s mother leaves, Selene acts like an adult that can contend with the king, and this transformation makes her appear older than she is.
I was also disappointed by the ending. I may have struggled in the beginning, but it wasn’t long before I was sold on Selene and her story. I was all in, and I admired the way Prince crafted a complicated relationship between the king and his healer over many years. As the book neared its conclusion I felt that I had really gone through it. But then it just…ends. I was immersed in this story and spent hundreds of pages living out years of Selene’s life, and Prince slammed the book shut on my nose. The last chapter starts off in the present day and then covers 50+ years in three pages. Within the chapter’s nine pages, a character starts at age 17/18 and ends as someone who has aged to the point of wrinkles and sagging skin. It was disappointing like I was enjoying my ice cream cone but someone knocked it out of my hand. But I didn’t even get the horror of seeing it fall in slow motion. It hit the pavement hard, and I was forced to move on with my life.
Even though I had a rollercoaster experience with To Poison a King, I’d still recommend it. I enjoyed the journey and the relationship that developed between Selene and her king, and S.G. Prince made it all the more compelling by adding secrets and magic into the mix. If you can put aside big expectations for the ending, I think you will come to appreciate this story, too.
Rating: To Poison a King – 7.0/10