Publisher: Simon & Schuster.
Paperback, 320 pages.
Release date: July 2nd 2015.
Rating: 3½ out of 5.
Reviewed by: Arianne.
Source: Received from publisher for review.
When the Princess of Nova accidentally poisons herself with a love potion meant for her crush, she falls crown-over-heels in love with her own reflection. Oops. A nationwide hunt is called to find the cure, with competitors travelling the world for the rarest ingredients, deep in magical forests and frozen tundras, facing death at every turn.
Enter Samantha Kemi - an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Sam's family were once the most respected alchemists in the kingdom, but they've fallen on hard times, and winning the hunt would save their reputation. But can Sam really compete with the dazzling powers of the ZoroAster megapharma company? Just how close is Sam willing to get to Zain Aster, her dashing former classmate and enemy, in the meantime?
And just to add to the pressure, this quest is ALL OVER social media. And the world news.
No big deal, then.
After reading some incredible but totally devastating and emotional fantasy and contemporary reads this summer, I wanted something lighter for my next read. The Potion Diaries - a highly-anticipated new release, with a beautiful cover, a fabulous book trailer, and huge potential - struck me as the perfect choice.
I love the premise of this book. It tells the story of Samantha Kemi, a girl called to help save the life of her kingdom’s princess, poisoned by her own love potion. The contrast between both girls is used to great effect; Evelyn is heir to a throne, fantastic wealth and a lifetime of stardom, while Sam is heir to a crumbling potion shop, sole survivor of a tradition long since made obsolete by Nova’s technology-dependent world. Potions, quests, romance, and all with a 21st century twist – it’s definitely an eye-catching concept.
Every moment spent between the potion maker’s shelves - with its dusty jars, magical ingredients and centuries-old recipes - reads like something out of a fairy-tale, and it was undoubtedly my favourite part of the book. It’s brilliantly unique and not an idea I’ve seen used often outside adult fiction. I wished we could have spent more time there, but with Sam’s quest quickly becoming the focus of the novel, we’re forced to wave goodbye to her beautiful, tumbledown home far too soon. That said, the world of the book is vivid and colourful, each setting racing to outshine the last, and serves as a great backdrop for this sweet, fun adventure.
I really liked heroine Sam, too. Compassionate, kind and very relatable, I have a feeling she’s going to connect with a lot of readers. She’s more intelligent than she gives herself credit for, too, and her bravery in the face of danger is hugely admirable. I liked Samantha’s family and her best friend Anita, too – but for me it was all downhill from there.
These characters carry out their roles and nothing more. They don’t spring to life or capture the imagination. There’s no light and shade, no complexity, no realism. The heroes are heroes and the villains are villains. They appear when the plot calls and then vanish again until they next time they run in through a portal or conveniently turn up during a climactic scene. I couldn’t help but wonder: what have all these characters been doing while the plot trundles on without them? Twiddling their thumbs? Rehearsing their best evil laugh for hours on end? Or did they just go home to catch up on the new series of Orange is the New Black?
The plot is clear and straightforward, with a clear goal and just enough complications to keep you reading – if only it wasn’t a collection of ideas already seen in other books. The Wilde Hunt is just a sillier, tamer, pale imitation of The Hunger Games and Auden’s Horn has already starred in several works by C.S. Lewis. The scene where Sam and her fellow potion-makers sign up for the hunt is taken straight out of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and don’t even get me started on the love interest who’d probably be more at home (and better written) in a piece of One Direction fan fiction. The problems don’t end there, either. The writing style wasn’t for me, and I was particularly irritated by All The Unnecessary Capitalisation of Perfectly Ordinary Words As If That Suddenly Makes Them Mean Something Original. There’s no sense of danger anywhere in the book; the characters are never really under threat, and there’s no genuine problem or issue to overcome. The romance is flat and predictable, lacking both chemistry and surprise.
The main issue I had with the book, however, is that the teenage characters don’t act like teenagers – they act like they’re following a very idealized, safe idea of what teenagers should be. Feelings or conflicts – guilt, jealousy, anger, betrayal – that might make us doubt their position as good guys, as heroes, are glossed over. The book had so much potential to be complex as well as entertaining, and while it could make for a fantastic and captivating children’s or early young adult book, perhaps 9 or 10+, older readers will lose out when faced with its lack of emotional power and resonance.
In short: The Potion Diaries is ideal if you’re looking for a frothy, fun, quick read, especially for older children’s or young YA readers. I loved the premise, but was let down by the writing style, secondary cast and execution of what could have been a fantastic book.
P.S. Check out the Book Trailer for The Potion Diaries!