A review by amess
Master of Poisons, by Andrea Hairston

adventurous challenging dark slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No


I was looking forward to reading a fantasy book based on African lore and written by a black female author, who are vastly underrepresented in the fantasy genre. The book's central premise of a manmade ecological disaster consuming the world felt topical. But this book was quite the disappointment.

Hairston's prose is strong in figurative language and has a poetic flow to it. Yet it doesn't lend itself to a fantasy setting. Her descriptions will richly describe melodies or bees or honey, but she rarely delves into descriptions of the landscapes or the world or its objects, which makes the reader disoriented and feel out of place. If asked to draw a picture of any of her settings, I'd be at a loss to do so.

Likewise this lack of description of pertinent information expands to explaining the magic and nuances of the world.
Spoiler The climate destruction is the encroaching Poison desert caused by Nightmare Gates from the priest Hezram who uses the blood of people who can Smokewalk.
None of this is ever properly explained. The dangers of Poison desert are mentioned in passing, but the reader doesn't truly feel the threat. Dream Gates and Nightmare Gates are vaguely discussed, but I could not tell you what they are or the function they provide. Smokewalking and its realm are even more vague and the rules of it nearly nonexistent. It just appears in and out whenever it is convenient for the characters.

The characters themselves I could not strongly ascribe personalities to. Djola's journey endures year long timeskips and much of the struggles and losses he experiences happens "off screen." Awa is more likeable as a character, but her underlying motivations rarely make sense and for the most part she just exists. I will give credit that Hairston does a great job at writing from animal perspectives.

Hairston can write, and she has a rich imagination. Her writing style just didn't seem to fit in conveying a fantasy story. I'm not sure if it would fit in a better medium. This was definitely one of the few books I honestly considered abandoning several different times.