Top Tier (4 to 5 stars)

The Poisoned Garden [Leopard’s Bane #1], by Phill Featherstone

4 out of 5 stars. Coming of Age in a world that is beautiful on the surface, but rotten deep to its core.

4 stars
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The blurb clearly states this as YA Fantasy, but if you’re expecting it to be a light read, then you’re in for a treat – of the nasty kind (for your expectation, not your reading enjoyment). The opening pages make it very clear that this story takes place in a harsh, hard and cruel world, where lives don’t really matter much. Let’s just say it’s rare that a YA book starts with the murder of a little girl, but you’ll soon find it’s an appropriate way to start this story.

Because it’s not just coming of age and family feuds – everything that’s going to happen takes place in a dystopian city state at the brink of falling apart, with the old ruler of one of the most powerful houses (and master of the city) slowly dying and his offspring trying to gain the old man’s favour. And of course the antagonist, Ragul, seems pretty much set out to win the most, while our hero, Peglar, initially stands no chance.

The hero’s journey, a classic plot structure. It’s called a classic for a reason – because it works!

The problem here is that our future hero doesn’t really want to beat his half-brother in this game. He would be willing to stay in the shadow – and if you look closely, you can see the outline of the hero’s journey through the plot.

The mentor here, in some way, is a young girl named Yalka, who shows Peglar how the other half really lives, and she helps him gain a new perspective. As he works to become a man, he slowly learns how unjust the world he lives in really is. Just because you’re sitting on top of a pile of poop doesn’t make it stink less.

And if he wants to do something about it, that means he needs to gain the power to do so – and that means there is no way out of this power struggle with his half-brother Ragul but through. It’s coming of age quite literally, with Peglar facing the three trials he needs to undertake to be recognized as a man and a citizen. (As you might have guessed, there’s a lot more depending on that status than just his right to wear a blue tunic.)

If Peglar and Ragul where dogs …

The trials are all about physical skills, endurance and that. Peglar is more a thinker than a fighter – but he soon finds out that even as a thinker, he’s behind. Because Yalka challenges his thoughts, and his beliefs and his world view. The boy might be afraid of the physical challenges, but Yalka’s questions will be what he really needs to grow.

As things go, you probably know that finishing the trials won’t be where Peglars problems end, but rather where they start. And it’s not only his half brother he has to worry about, but also Ragul’s mother, who is intrigue incarnate.

Ragul’s mother will find every last weak spot and use it to her son’s advantage.

Suffice to say that Peglar has to grow even more to last in this world where power is all and truth is something to sneer at, preferably while feasting and plotting and scheming. I won’t say more, as that would be telling, but the odds are ramping up pretty quickly after the trials. See for yourself.

The prose is well written, and as every YA story should, there’s a moral to the story. What’s kind of unnerving is Phill’s habit of constantly overshadowing the current events. You know, sentences like “later on, he would realize that his decision was a mistake”. Yeah, I get it, bad things are about to happen, but I honestly suggest an author should at a maximum be allowed one of these overshadowing sentences per 100 pages, not more, and most certainly not one in almost every chapter.

And the ending is a little downer, but that’s very clever of Phill, because now I’m invested in Peglar and want to know how his story continues.

4 stars out of 5. While Peglar had a slow character development throughout this book, he suddenly changes character a lot in the last few pages, as seen by his sudden change of language. And Yalka’s return should have earned a few more words, that seemed very abrupt.

Disclaimer: I’ve received a free Advanced Reader’s Copy and am leaving this review voluntarily.

By Stefan

father of two, not enough time to read everything I want to read

One reply on “The Poisoned Garden [Leopard’s Bane #1], by Phill Featherstone”

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