Formats available: ebook
Genre: fantasy, steampunk
Series: Clockwork Dagger #0.5
Length: 48 pages
Publisher: Harper Voyager Impulse
Date Released: April 28, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
Octavia Leander, a young healer with incredible powers, has found her place among Miss Percival’s medicians-in-training. Called to the frontlines of a never-ending war between Caskentia and the immoral Wasters, the two women must uncover the source of a devastating illness that is killing thousands of soldiers. But when Octavia’s natural talents far outshine her teacher’s, jealousy threatens to destroy their relationship—as time runs out to save the encampment.
The Deepest Poison is a prequel novella for Beth Cato’s Clockwork Dagger Duology. However, it was written, or at least published, between book 1 (The Clockwork Dagger) and book 2 (The Clockwork Crown). I have not read either of the two books yet, although I’m reading The Clockwork Dagger next week and The Clockwork Crown in early June as part of a tour.
So for folks who read the first book when it came out, The Deepest Poison serves as a peek into the background of a character they already know. For new readers, it’s a 50 page introduction into the world of the novels.
When The Deepest Poison opens, we find ourselves in the midst of a war that seems to have gone on forever. Our point-of-view character is not Octavia Leander, but her teacher and mentor, the medician (read as healer) Miss Percival.
We are in Miss Percival’s head and it is not a comfortable place to be. Miss Percival is not a comfortable person, period, and she has a lot of very human thoughts about Leander. Miss Percival is the head of the medician order and is used to being the most powerful and most talented person around.
Octavia Leander forces her to acknowledge that she is neither, and Percival hates that acknowledgement and the person who forces her into it. It is all too human not to like people who upstage us, whether they intend to or not.
Percival wants age and treachery to beat youth and skill, but those days are inevitably numbered. Her jealousy of Leander’s talent and ability is a palpable force.
The setting is a military camp and its medical aid (medician) station. In spite of the use of magic instead of surgery, the camp felt a lot like a MASH unit, with meatball magic substituting for meatball surgery. Medical triage looks and sounds like medical triage, no matter how the medicine is performed.
The mystery in the story concerns that long-standing war between what we are supposed to see as the good guys (Percival and Leander’s side) and the bad guys, who are called “Wasters”. Not because they waste things, but because they come from a region called “The Waste”.
Either there is a highly contagious disease spreading through the camp, a disease that seems to be dysentery from hell, or someone has poisoned the water supply, which is not supposed to be possible.
One of the conflicts between Percival and Leander is that Leander believes the best of everyone. She is certain that her sanitation squad has been properly performing their jobs, and that the water supply is as magically protected as it ever was. She can’t solve the current problem because she is unable to let herself investigate all the possible causes.
At this stage in her career, Leander is a bit too goody-goody, or so it seems.
Percival, on the other hand, is older and much, much more knowledgeable about the dark side of human nature. She doesn’t trust, she verifies. Unfortunately, she verifies that someone has tampered with the water supply and that the tampering is an inside job.
It would seem like they could work together successfully – each provides something that the other lacks. But Percival is too protective of her own privileges, and Leander is just plain certain that their goddess, The Lady, has given her special talents and the requirements to use them, no matter what her worldly superiors might say.
While the conflict between the two women remains unspoken for the duration of this particular battle, the reader can see that there is trouble ahead, with no certainty which of them, if either, really has the right of it.
And the war goes on.
Escape Rating B: While this novella is too short to give new readers enough background on the war between the Kingdom and the Wasters, it does do a good job of getting the reader right into the midst of its action, and provides a fascinating portrait of its two main characters, particularly Percival.
Because Percival has more of a long view of her medician corps and the life and career of Leander, we get an absorbing peek into Percival’s unhappy head and a portrait of Leander from the outside. Leander comes off as incredibly gifted goody-two-shoes who would be a pain in the ass for almost any commander. She does what she thinks is best, regardless of orders or rules. When she’s right, as she is about the ultimate cure for the poison, she is very, very right. But when she’s wrong, she’s also very, very wrong. Without Percival’s practiced and practical intervention, the stage would never have been set for Leander’s miraculous cure.
As someone who is planning to read the rest of the series, I got a good taste of who these characters are, and I’m appropriately teased enough to want to know more about their world and how things proceeded from here.
I’m now eagerly looking forward to The Clockwork Dagger and The Clockwork Crown. This novella has definitely accomplished its job.