THE POTION DIARIES by AMY ALWARD
PB, 356 pages, Simon and Schuster
Amy Alward also writes as Amy McCulloch, and her adult debut The Oathbreaker’s Shadow is well worth checking out. The Potion Diaries is her first foray into YA, and it’s clear right from the outset that she’s equally accomplished no matter which audience she’s writing for. The Potion Dairies tells the story of Samantha Kemi, unmagical daughter of a long line of alchemists, who sets out to safe her failing family business, restore their reputation, oh, and save the life of a princess who has inadvertently poisoned herself with a love potion intended for Sam’s crush, Zain Aster. Who happens to be the son of a powerful rival alchemist, and part of a team also hunting down the cure for the ailing princess. So far, so complicated. But chuck in a deranged contender for the crown, aggressive mermaids, Sam’s own self-doubt and the odd abominable snowman and you’ve got the makings of a magical concoction.
It’s a more interesting book than the Princess Diaries-esqe cover suggests – the cover really doesn’t do justice to the content. First there’s the world, where magic and unicorns and love spells sit side-by side with smartphones and social networking, where Sam can take a plane as easily as she can be transported by magic. It probably shouldn’t work, but it does. And the world is divided between the Talented, who have magic which they can channel through objects, and the Ordinary, like Sam, who have their own unique skills. It’s not a case of magic users on top and everyone else underneath, but the social conflicts that arise will be familiar to any teen who has desperately wanted to fit in.
The passages from the point of view of Princess Evelyn are particularly interesting, and it would be nice to have seen more of them. The unfortunate Evelyn, through a mistake, has fallen in love with her own reflection. Not in the manner of Narcissus, wasting away from desire; Evelyn believes her reflection is a separate identity, a beautiful girl who teases her by appearing and disappearing, who matches her move for move, and her inability to touch her through the glass of the mirror, her frustrated love for the elusive Lyn and her belief that her parents are trying to separate them is driving her crazy. It’s a sharp reminder of how hopeless and scary teenage love can be, even for a princess in a magical realm.
The book is written in first person present tense, which seems to be a popular trend in YA nowadays, and not one I’m wildly keen on. But Sam is a fine heroine, courageous, and devoted to her family and friends. This is a sweet book, whimsical without being too cutesy, and with moments of surprising sharpness, that I’d recommend for fans of both YA and MG fiction.