Poison (Wooding novel)

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Cover on 2005 U.S. edition by First Orchard Books
Author Chris Wooding
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Fiction
Publisher Scholastic Ltd.
Publication date
Pages 273
ISBN 0-439-75571-9

Poison (2003) is a young adult English-language fantasy novel written by Chris Wooding, published in 2003. It is a highly metafictional novel which follows the adventures of a young (sixteen-year-old) female protagonist named Poison as she attempts to rescue her sister from the Phaerie Realm. It contains many intertextual references particularly to mythology, fairy tales and secondary world fantasy (i.e. a story about a world in which magic works without any connection to the "real" world) characteristics.

Wooding credits his travels through Europe as the inspiration for Poison, which he began writing a year after returning home.[1] He says of the novel:

"It can be read one level as a weird, gruesome kind of fairy tale, but there's a lot more to it than that. I spent most of my time writing this novel worrying about whether anyone would 'get' it, or whether it would sound like some degenerate A-Level student's philosophical rant when it was all finished instead of the story it was supposed to be, but I think it all worked out fine in the end. I'm very happy with it, anyways. And at least I got to put all the folklore I studied at University to good use."[1]


Poison is the story of a rebellious human teenager living in the swamp town of Gull with her father, stepmother, and her baby sister Azalea. She struggles against the oppression in her life, particularly with her strained relationship with her Stepmother. Her only friend in Gull is the old traveler Fleet, who tells her tales of the old wars and phaeries and maintains that Poison has some of the “Old Blood” in her. On Soulswatch Eve, Poison’s baby sister is taken and replaced with a Changeling. After consulting with Fleet, Poison sets out from Gull to rescue her sister from the Phaerie Lord. She pays the Wraith-Catcher Bram to take her to Shieldtown to seek out the creature Lamprey, whom Fleet has referred her to. Once in Shieldtown Poison encounters a young woman heading back to Gull, and asks her to relay a message to her parents. After proving herself to Lamprey Poison is sent to the home of the Bone Witch.

In chapters fairly reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel, Poison enters the house of the Bone Witch. She meets another young woman named Peppercorn who keeps house for the blind, old witch. Peppercorn is unwilling to help Poison past hiding her one night, and so it is with Bram’s help that Poison defeats the witch. Bram and Poison escape the house with Peppercorn and her highly intelligent cat Andersen.

The quartet meet a fisherman named Myrrk who hints that all is not what it seems in the phaerie realm and sends them on their way to the Phaerie Lord’s castle. Once there Poison strikes a deal with Aelthar the Phaerie Lord that he will return Azalea to her if she obtains a dagger for him. This deal sends her and her companions into the castle of the spider woman Asinastra. She obtains the dagger and returns to Aelthar, where she learns that he had no intention of returning her sister.

Angered by Aelthar’s deception, Poison and her companions journey to the meeting of the lords at the Hierophant’s castle where they reunite with Fleet. Fleet, we learn, is an Antiquarian; a human who seeks out stories of interest and value for the Hierophant to transcribe. Poison learns that her entire world has been written by the Hierophant, a fact that she is not particularly thrilled with.

Suddenly, all hell breaks loose as the Hierophant is murdered with the dagger Poison acquired for Aelthar. The lords of the varying realms are in an uproar, as the death of the Hierophant means that a successor must take his place, and each realm wants the new Hierophant to be of their own world. Aelthar is particularly determined, and Poison discovers that he—by way of the Scarecrow, the phaerie creature who steals children from their beds and replaces them with changelings—has been breeding phaerie-human hybrids, as humans are the only species with imaginations and therefore best suited to become Hierophant. He shows Poison her own sister, now a teenager, who he had sent home after deeming her unsuitable. Poison realizes that the girl she sent back to Gull with word of her journey was, in fact, her rapidly aged sister. Deprived of her quest, Poison is furious and determined to get revenge. Aelthar sets the Scarecrow after her among the Hierophant's archives, and she kills it, upon which she is stabbed by Aelthar's assistant. The world starts to rapidly dissolve around her, and she grins through the blood, announcing that she has realized that she is the new Hierophant.

Poison's life is saved, but her will to live is gone after realizing that her quest to regain her sister has been for naught. She refuses to eat, leaving the world drifting in a semi-solid unreality for weeks until Peppercorn's fury reminds her of her sister and she decides to begin work as Hierophant. The book ends with Poison furiously recording her own tale.

Main Characters[edit]

Poison: The 16-year-old female protagonist who is "a willful, contrary girl, prone to being argumentative and stubborn." She embarks on an adventure to save her sister, Azalea, who has been stolen by the fairies. She lives in the Black Marshes, in a village named Gull. Her mother, Faraway died when she was young, and her father, Hew, remarried Snapdragon. Poison original name was Foxglove, but she renamed herself in her coming-of-age ceremony to spite her step-mother Snapdragon. She has violet eyes.

Fleet: Poison's mentor in Gull who tells her stories about the world outside of the Black Marshes and the Phaerie World from his own experiences. He is secretly an Antiquarian who has been following Poison's story.

Azalea: Poison's three-year-old sister is taken at the beginning of the novel by the Phaerie called the Scarecrow. She returns to Gull at the age of 12.

Bram: A wraith-catcher who comes to Gull to collect their marshwraiths for a profit. He reluctantly takes Poison to Shieldtown, but ends up being Poison's companion throughout the novel.

Peppercorn: A naive girl who lives under the tyranny of Maeb, the Bone-Witch, with her cat, Andersen. Poison and Bram take Peppercorn from the Bone-Witch's house and her and Andersen join Poison and Bram in the adventure to find Azalea.

Andersen: Peppercorn's cat who is often called unnatural by Bram because of his ability to communicate with everyone and navigate through both the human realm and the Phaerie realm.

Maeb, The Bone-Witch: Her house sits on the gateway between the Phaerie and human realm and, though she is blind and deaf, uses her sense of smell and her two dogs to capture those who use her house to move between realms.

Lady Asinastra: The lady of cobwebs, ruler of the realm of spiders, half woman, half spider, possess spider like powers. Poison steals a dagger from her and Asinastra becomes her enemy.

Aelthar: The Phaerie King and the hater of humans who Poison sees as the one behind stealing Azalea.

Scriddle: Aelthar's assistant who is half-human, half-Phaerie who later tries to put himself in the role of Hierophant.

Melcheron, the Hierophant: A human who is the lead Antiquarian and controls the rules and destiny of most people in all of the realms.

Pariasa: The Hierophant's beautiful wife and Mistress of the Aeriads. She later betrays Melcheron and becomes Scriddle's lover as he attempts to take the role of Hierophant.


The 'Poison' universe is divided into different realms based on the ruling species of that particular realm. The novel begins in the Realm of Man and proceeds through the various locations.

Realm of Man[edit]


The village of Gull is a backwoods, dingy, and dangerous place on the outskirts of civilisation. It is home to all sorts of nasty and poisonous creatures. Apart from visiting Wraith-catchers, it is an undesirable place to travel.


Shieldtown is a bustling hub-city home to all sorts of people from the elites to the slum lords. It is the home of Lamprey.


House of the Bone Witch[edit]

The House of the Bone Witch, Maeb, is an area of liminality. it appears differently on the outside from the inside, and as its name suggests, it is the home of the blind and deaf guardian of the portal between the Realm of Man and Phaerie. Here, the evenings are long and drawn out while daylight ends within the hour.

Realm of Phaeries[edit]

The Realm of Phaeries is a beautiful realm which is very pleasing to the human eye, everything is perfect and nothing looks out of place. Thought it is beautiful, everything has a taste of evil within it. The Phaerie folk treat humans as vermin. The Palace of the Phaerie Lord, Aelthar, is a castle pristine beauty. Rolling green hills and breathtaking landscapes fill the land.

Realm of Spiders[edit]

Asinastra rules, The Lady of Cobwebs rules over the Realm of Spiders. The realm consists of a castle surrounded by a vast jungle covered with giant cobwebs.

Hierophant's Castle[edit]

The Hierophant's Castle is overcast with a perpetual storm. Beyond its walls lies an extensive library which houses all the stories in the world, at least all the ones worth reading.



Lancashire Children's Book of the Year 2004[2]

Dracula Society The Children of the Night Award 2003[3]

American Library Association Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults 2006[4]


Carnegie Medal 2004[5]


This fantasy, set in various realms—human (lowest in the pecking order), phaerie and arachnid—utilises many fantasy and folkloric tropes in original and often amusing ways. - Kirkus Reviews 2005[6]

"In a novel almost unparalleled for density an invention, each scene of danger sings with tension. Lovers of adventure, horror, and suspense should keep an eye on this talented author" - Horn Book[7]

"Wooding’s serpentine plotting and lush, imaginative writing have something to offer" - Booklist[8] “Wooding again weaves a dark tale just beyond what readers might expect... fans of fairy tales with a dark side will shiver a freeze with fear" - VOYA


  1. ^ a b "Chris Wooding". Retrieved 22 December 2014. 
  2. ^ "County Library and Information Service Children's Book Of The Year 2004 Shortlist". Archived from the original on December 19, 2009. Retrieved February 2, 2012. 
  3. ^ "The Children of the Night Award". www.thedraculasociety.org.uk. The Dracula Society. Retrieved 10 April 2016. 
  4. ^ "BBYA 2006 Top Ten". www.ala.org. American Library Association. Retrieved 10 April 2016. 
  5. ^ "The CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children's Book Awards - Press Desk". Retrieved 22 December 2014. 
  6. ^ POISON. (2005). Kirkus Reviews, 73(17), 984.
  7. ^ Burkam, A. L. (2005). Poison. Horn Book Magazine, 81(5), 590-591.
  8. ^ Leber, M. (2006). Poison. Booklist, 102(11), 6.