Review: The Antidote
THE ANTIDOTE by Shelley Sackier reads like a fairytale–and not one that the Brothers Grimm recorded; there is no real peril here in Sackier’s stage-set world building. With a lively protagonist and a plenty of twists, THE ANTIDOTE should be a bubbly little read, but a fumble on some story fundamentals makes it more frustrating than fun.
Ophelia (or Fee, as she’s known to her friends) has a gift with plants, a strange mark on her arm, and two best friends: Prince Xavi and Prince Rye. Her idyllic childhood of causing mischief and spending all her free time with Xavi and Rye comes to an abrupt end when disaster strikes the kingdom of Fireli. A miasmic plague sweeps in from the nearby mines and kills every man or woman in their prime. In a slightly illogical response, Fireli packs off its children, including Rye, to stay with the kingdom next door for ten years.
Fee and Xavi are the only children left in Fireli during this randomly long amount of time. Having been warned that she can never be seen by anyone–for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, even now–Fee stays occupied secretly apprenticing under Fireli’s healer. On the eve of the reopening of the kingdom and the end of Fee’s enforced isolation, she earns that the princess who has come to marry Xavi may be poisoning him. To make matters more interesting, the mark on her arm, which has been dormant for years, has come back to life. Here begins a rather madcap race to save her friend’s life im which Fee discovers the complicated nature of her past and explores her newfound magical abilities. There is also a happy ending.
The first few pages of any novel are essential ‘real estate’ in which to sell the reader on the story. Instead of plunging in to the heart of the novel–the moment that Fireli comes out of quarantine and Fee tries to save Xavi’s life–Sackier has written multiple beginnings to the narrative. As Sackier tries to establish Fee’s relationships with Xavi and Rye by showing them at different points in their childhood, this backstory delays the real beginning. While the false starts only take up about 30 pages, that’s already 10% of THE ANTIDOTE before it really gets going.
I bring this up not to nitpick but because this slow start reflects my main issue with the narrative, which was Sackier’s mismanagement of information. For example, Sackier fails to correctly weight events so that readers are constantly trying to parse out what might be essential or non-essential happenings. For example, several unnamed characters appear and disappear during Ophelia’s childhood with no clue as to who they are or what they want. Instead of being mysterious or intriguing, their appearances are confusing, cutting into the forward action. When we discover later that these are minor characters who were just keeping an eye on Fee, their insertion feels like an unnecessary use of narrative goodwill.
The mismanaged foreshadowing throughout the novel means that some of Sackier’s more important emotional beats lack depth. When Ophelia rails against ‘the law’ that keeps her from being with her true love I didn’t feel sorry for her–instead I felt confused. Why should Fee believe the woman who relays this information (who she just met) or why should she believe the law applies to her in any way, given her ignorance of her own background? Why would a law she just found out about feel binding to her? I didn’t buy it as a viable roadblock because it had been dropped into the story instead of built in from the beginning.
Perhaps these sound like small issues, but there were a number of them and it all adds up to a book that feels more frustrating than fun. Many of these issues could and should have been resolved during the editing process and I felt like it wasn’t Sackier’s writing letting her down as much as her editor. THE ANTIDOTE is a novel in need of more tidying.
- Recommended Age: 11+
- Language: None
- Violence: None
- Sex: People feel each other up; a scene fades to black