In this epic fantasy that draws upon African folkloric tradition and addresses climate change, Djola, righthand man and spymaster of the lord of the Arkhysian Empire, is desperately trying to save his adopted homeland, even in exile. Awa, a young woman training to be a powerful griot, tests the limits of her knowledge and comes into her own in a world of sorcery, floating cities, kindly beasts, and uncertain men.
Master of Poisons is rich in worldbuilding yet intimate in details. It is a sprawling saga that covers years and worlds but still feels deeply personal. Hairston’s magical system here is highly inventive and unlike anything else I’ve read before. It is complicated and I’m not sure even now I fully understand it, but I liked the density and confusion ... If I had to complain about something, it would be that the structure of the chapters clashed with the pacing of the plot. Chapters were generally short, two or three pages at most, which, when paired with the expansive time frame and gradual pacing, made the story feel like it was barely moving. As in I felt like I was breezing through chapters yet making little progress through the narrative. One of the selling points of epic fantasy is its breadth and depth, so your mileage may vary. And it certainly wasn’t enough of an obstacle to ding my enjoyment of the novel as a whole. Epic fantasy readers, you’re about to read your new favorite book. With its large cast of characters, stunning worldbuilding, gorgeous prose, and fascinating magic, Master of Poisons will shake you to your core. Andrea Hairston has done it again. All hail the queen.
Hairston pulls the reader into a mythical fantasyland based on Africa, and the tone, pace, and stories within the novel speak to the folkloric tradition, reminiscent of Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf (2019) ... Fans of Rachel Caine’s Ink and Bone (2015) and S. A. Chakraborty’s The City of Brass (2017) will enjoy this.
Hairston...dazzles with this complex epic fantasy ... In stirring prose...Hairston weaves a rich tapestry of folklore and adventure, inviting readers into a well-developed, non-Western fantasy world, while navigating pressing issues of climate change and personal responsibility. This is an urgent, gorgeous work.