Sequel Envy: A Little Taste of Poison by RJ Anderson

28954187Twelve-year-old Isaveth tries to take down the man who framed her father for murder in this lively follow-up to A Pocket Full of Murder, which Kirkus Reviews called “thoroughly entertaining.”

The city of Tarreton is powered by magic, from simple tablets that light lamps to advanced Sagery that can murder a man from afar. Isaveth has a talent for spell-making, but as a girl from a poor neighborhood she never dreamed she could study at the most exclusive magical school in the city. So when she’s offered a chance to attend, she eagerly accepts.

The school is wonderful, but old and new enemies confront Isaveth at every turn, and she begins to suspect her scholarship might be more a trap than a gift. Even her secret meetings with Esmond, her best friend and partner in crime-solving, prove risky—especially once he hatches a plan to sneak her into the biggest society event of the season. It’s their last chance to catch the corrupt politician who once framed her father for murder. How can Isaveth refuse?

When you really enjoy an author’s first book, you sometimes approach the second book in the series with a mixture of anticipation and slight dread. It’s wonderful to return to the world you enjoyed so much, but what if the second book doesn’t thrill you the same way? It’s a legitimate complaint, but not one most people speak aloud. How lucky are we as readers that RJ Anderson’s follow-up to last year’s “A Pocket Full of Murder” is just as wonderfully complex and engaging as book one??!!

Rejoining Isaveth and Esmond (aka Quiz) again was like checking in with favourite cousins after a long absence. It only takes a few sentences before we are right back into the world of Tarreton, with everyday magic, religious persecution and political intrigue. This time out, Isaveth has taken up the scholarship offer to attend the prestigious Tarreton College made by Glow-Mor Light and Fire Company president Mister Wregget. Isaveth proves herself to be an excellent student, but she is also a target for bullies who intend to make her life miserable not only because she’s a commoner, but because her family belongs to a Moshite religious group. Anderson has included some wonderfully written messages about tolerance and bullying in these scenes that will resonate and will hopefully open the floor for some potentially great discussions.

That’s not to say that Isaveth is in this alone; the chance to attend a new school means the chance to make new friends. She soon finds potential new allies in Eulalie, the daughter of the new Deputy Justice, and in Mander Ghataj. Esmond also attends the College, but he isn’t the Quiz she thought she knew as his desire to catch his brother becomes almost an obsession. Isaveth learns very quickly that she must trust her instincts when it comes to revealing information to her new friends.

The mystery from book one remains, and Isaveth and Esmond must find a way to catch out Eryx for his past crimes. This is no easy task, especially with Esmond’s father, the Sagelord, close to death and sister Civilla apparently on Eryx’s side. As with book one, no one and nothing is as it seems; as readers we are taken on the same ride as Isaveth as she tries to uncover what is really going on. The plot is a little more intricate than before, with lots of double-twists and turns and more than a few serious issues with which to content, but Anderson handles all the threads with a  deft hand.

Events build to include a society ball, kidnapping, life or death chase across the ice flows and even a poisoning (as suggested by the title). Without spoilers, one thing I loved about this book is how magic is such an integral part not only of the setting and the story, but also of the mystery itself, while the mystery still remained a classic whodunnit in form. In fact, I’d venture to say that Anderson has written her second book as an homage to the Queen of Crime herself, as A Little Taste of Poison is vintage Christie in its complex storytelling and mystery sequencing, right up to the gathering of known suspects for the final reveal.

Fans of book one will not be disappointed in the sequel; in fact, here’s hoping that Isaveth and Esmond continue their adventure in some form. Their adventures are rich in magic, intrigue, action, social justice and even a bit of romance, and will keep the reader engaged until the slyly wonderful epilogue.

A copy of A Little Taste of Poison was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. It is available for purchase now from your favourite indie, online or high street bookstore. ISBN: 9781481437745, 288 pages.