Jessamine Luxton lives in the mostly deserted ruin of Hulne Abbey with her father, Thomas Luxton, an apothecary who is both respected and feared. Jessamine has been taught by her father about some of the amazing properties of the plants he grows, but he will not let her into his most prized possession, his poison garden, in which he raises the sorts of plants that can most easily kill.
Jessamine has been pleading with him to be let into the garden for years, but every time she asks he has told her that she isn't old enough- she needs to be more mature before she is ready. And now, even though her father is gone trying to help someone sick, and he is trusting her to prepare the seeds of the Belladonna plant for planting, when he gets home and once more denies her entry into the garden, she is angered enough to run away- only he never notices that she is missing, and she comes back when her anger is diminished.
Soon afterwards, a strange man comes to the Abbey hauling a boy wrapped up in ropes. He tells his story- he runs an asylum for the care of insane people, but after the boy came to work for him, he found his patients were somehow being cured, and when he convinced the boy not to put him out of work, the boy then drove the whole town crazy. So he is determined to be rid of the boy and wants Jessamine's father to take the boy on, as he seems to have some instinctive knowledge of herbs and plants.
Her father is intrigued enough by the story to do so, but he lets Jessamine tend to the boy, whose name is Weed. Her first sight of his open eyes, a deep and beautiful green, convinces her that such a boy couldn't be a monster.
But he is strange. At first he won't eat anything that grows- only eggs and bacon. And because their eggs and bacon are limited, Jessamine convinces him he can eat- as long as he gives thanks for the food he is about to eat- which allows him to eat growing things like potatoes, apples and such without feeling bad about them. The extra food allows him to fill out, and he is soon following Jessamine around as she tends her garden.
As they spend more time in each other's company, Jessamine begins to see how wonderful and special Weed really is, and slowly falls in love with the strange boy. And perhaps he returns her affections, but her father seeks to find out more about Weed's strange abilities with plants. Weed, though, hates Thomas's poison garden, which Thomas lets both Jessamine and Weed into when he hears that Weed can actually talk to the plants.
But Weed finds the poison plants sly and secretive and strange. As he and Jessamine fall deeper in love, Jessamine finds that she would love nothing more than Weed as her husband. Thomas agrees, but Jessamine becomes very sick after their betrothal dinner, and Weed must consult the plants in the poison garden for a cure for her, and their Prince, Oleander.
But, to his shock and surprise, getting a cure for her sickness will require more than just plants- The poisons and their Prince make Weed go against his very principles to find a cure, and give him knowledge of exactly why she got sick that have Weed hating himself and thinking that Jessamine could never love a man who has done what he has done- even if for the love of her. Can Weed live with himself, or will he be forced to leave the woman he loves because of how much he despises himself and what love caused him to do. Is Love the greatest Poison of all?
I found this book interesting and enjoyable. Weed. as a character, is a mystery in human form, and yet, we can empathize with Jessamine as she becomes fascinated with his powers and abilities with plants- because the way he can speak to them (as we get to see when we finally get inside Weed's point of view), is pretty amazing. And when the two of them begin to fall in love with each other, it's heartwarming and wonderful.
But then, Jessamine gets sick, and Weed is beside himself trying to find a cure for her. It's her illness that enables Jessamine's father, Thomas, to get the things he wants out of Weed. We've been receiving hints all along that Jessamine's father is not a nice man, but here he seems like a concerned father. Yes, he wants to know about the properties of the plants in his poison garden, but maybe, you think, he just wants them for healing. Until the twist comes. In a way, I both did and did not see it coming, as I knew he wasn't the nicest guy, I just didn't quite think he'd be that heartless.
By the end of the book, I knew that this would only be the first in a series, or at least, it will have a sequel. Weed may have saved Jessamine (it's actually not quite clear), but the things he's done and the choices he's made have sickened him and made him hate himself- not Jessamine, but he thinks she won't be able to live with him after what he has done. But she never gets the chance to choose, and Weed leaves. Given that Weed may not be human (there is hints that he may be born of faerie or something like that), I think Jessamine herself might have to seek him out.
And I'm looking forward to reading that book when and if it comes out. I really enjoyed this book, even though it isn't the happiest story around and the ending is left very much up in the air. I am hoping that the next book sees Weed and Jessamine reunited and happy, and the villains of the piece punished in some way for their crimes. Highly recommended, if a bit of a downer ending.