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7 Fantasy Novels Featuring Poison

Fantasy novels are full of swords and magic, knights and wizards. There are large scale battles, individual duels, and assassins galore. One weapon that doesn’t turn up nearly as often as it should, at least in our opinion, is poison. Luckily, when it does turn up, it tends to be in dramatic ways, as demonstrated by these 7 novels.

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

Image Place holder  of - 52 “I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me.” That’s the opening line to Sam Hawke’s debut fantasy novel City of Lies, a story of family, treachery, war, and, of course, poison. Jovan, our hero, is the quiet best friend of the Chancellor’s heir, destined to always be a step behind his friend—because that’s the best place to protect him. Jovan is a proofer, trained in identifying and countering poisons. And, of course, using them if necessary. When the Chancellor is murdered by an unknown poison, it will take all of Jovan’s art to keep the impulsive heir alive while they try to unravel the mystery.

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

Poster Placeholder of - 64 A true classic of epic fantasy, Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy is full of magic, violence, and, naturally, poison. FitzChivalry Farseer was born a royal bastard, and is taken in by the royal family so that they can train him to be useful to them—primarily as an assassin. One of the tools in Fitz’s arsenal is poison: deadroot, death angel mushrooms, and nightmist are three of the particularly deadly poisons that show up in the series. Hobb is a masterful writer, and as Fitz learns his craft and begins to use it (and have it used against him) readers will fall in love with his earnest desire to please his royal family.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Place holder  of - 38 One of the most famous poisons in fantasy history—both in books and movies—has to be iocaine powder. In one of our favorite scenes in Goldman’s novel, the man in black outwits Vizzini with a rigged psychological game, challenging Vizzini to guess which cup of wine contains the iocaine poison. Of course, we all know both cups were in fact poisoned, but our handsome man in black has built up an immunity to iocaine powder. That’s only one element of this classic fantasy novel, of course (“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”), but it’s one of our favorites.

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Placeholder of  -80 “Three dark queens are born in a glen, sweet little triplets that will never be friends…” because one is destined to kill the other two and claim the crown. That’s the setup for Kendare Blake’s dark novel, featuring three sisters who each have a particular skill or power. Katharine, one of the sisters, is supposed to be a poisoner, immune to any and all poisons. When we meet her, her ability hasn’t manifested yet, so her guardians try to build up her immunity the old fashioned way: by feeding her small amounts of deadly poisons, leaving her physically frail. Will Katharine’s ability ever manifest? And, more importantly, which of the sisters is strong enough to become queen?

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

Image Placeholder of - 92 The previous proofers and taste testers in this list have been volunteers or born with natural abilities, but that’s not the case in Maria V. Snyder’s series. Our heroine, Yelena, is an admitted, convicted murderer, who is offered the position of taste tester to the Commander of Ixia only because no one cares if she dies. Luckily, Yelena is strong and, more importantly, has a great palette—she learns how to identify poisons quickly and accurately, and twice survives attacks using the nearly-always-fatal poison My Love. Navigating the politics of life in Ixia is hard enough, but when you’re constantly having to ingest poisons on top of it? Let’s just say that while we love reading about Yelena, we definitely don’t want her life.

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin

In George R. R. Martin’s epic series, poison turns up fairly often, and sometimes in incredibly dramatic fashion. It’s definitely the weapon of choice for many of the women in the series. We see King Joffrey violently murdered with a poison called The Strangler, which causes him to choke and suffocate, dying quickly and very, very publicly. It’s discovered that Lysa Arryn used the Tears of Lys, a slow-acting poison, to kill her husband Jon. The HBO show even decided to up the poison factor, including a poison called The Long Farewell, which is used by Ellaria Sand to poison Myrcella Baratheon–which, of course, causes Myrcella’s mother Cersei to use the same poison to kill Ellaria’s daughter in revenge. With so many poisonings, it’s a good thing the series has a massive cast of characters, otherwise there wouldn’t be anyone left at this point!

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson

Poison plays a smaller role in Kai Ashante Wilson’s novella than in the previous books on this list, but we wanted to include it because it shows an interesting side of poison that many fantasy novels don’t touch on–the fact that poisons aren’t, in fact, all bad. Many even have medical benefits and are only lethal in large doses. In The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, one of the characteristics that makes our protagonist Demane a demigod is that he secretes poison from his skin. He uses that poison, in small doses of course, as an anaesthetic in his unofficial role as medic to a band of mercenaries. A lot of dangerous things have a good side if used carefully!


Deadly Sibling Rivalries in Fantasy

Siblings are often the best part of growing up—they’re usually someone you know you can count on, someone who will have your back even as they’re making fun of you. But sometimes siblings can be dangerous, even deadly. We love a good story about sibling rivalries gone vicious! Here are some of our favorites:

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

Image Place holder  of - 45 Tessa Gratton’s fresh take on the story of King Lear revolves around the relationships of three sisters struggling for control of their father’s failing kingdom: Gaela, Regan, and Elia. The eldest, Gaela, pursues martial control; her sister Regan seeks to restore the ancient religious rites long forbidden by her father. Elia stands between them, resented by her older sisters. As tensions rise among this fractured family, the conflict between the three begins to take a deadly toll on the island of Lear itself.

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin

Place holder  of - 63 There are plenty of contentious—and outright murderous—relationships between family members in the A Song of Ice and Fire series: Tyrion and Cersei, Catelyn and Lysa, Daenerys and Viserys. Perhaps one of the most consequential for the fate of Westeros, however, is the rivalry between Renly and Stannis Baratheon, both of whom become contenders for the throne in the wake of their brother’s death. Their rivalry leads them close to outright war between brothers.

The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

Poster Placeholder of - 48 There’s no conflict quite like that between half-brothers—especially when one is illegitimate and kept hidden from the other. That’s the setup between Zane and Elend Venture in The Well of Ascension, the second book in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. While Elend was raised in comfort as the heir, Zane, one of few full Mistborns in the world, was raised as a weapon. Zane is definitely an unstable individual, so of course he wants to kill his half-brother. Standing in his way is Vin, the heroine of Sanderson’s series and a powerful Mistborn in her own right. Zane was robbed of a normal childhood, but readers win when Zane and Vin face off, with Elend in between.

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

Placeholder of  -9 If there’s one thing we’ve learned from reading, it’s never to trust ambitious younger siblings. Regal in the Farseer Trilogy is no exception: he seeks to position himself as the heir to the aging king, establishing a rivalry with his older brother Verity—and he just might have plotted the pre-series murder of FitzChivalry’s father.
Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson

Image Placeholder of - 8 Like A Song of Ice and Fire, Steven Erikson’s epic series has plenty of siblings who really (really, really) don’t get along. From a pair of sisters who find themselves on opposite sides of a rebellion, to nearly-immortal brothers who can barely be on the same continent, being someone’s brother or sister is as likely to be a guarantee of violent conflict as it is to be a source of familial love.

And you thought your family didn’t get along.

The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny

Roger Zelazny’s classic series follows “shadow-walkers” who can move through parallel worlds. The ability belongs only to those of royal blood, descendants of the mad sorcerer Dworkin Barimen. Of those with the ability, there’s a lot of in-fighting—much of it deadly as the various family members try to take the throne from Oberon, the liege lord of Amber. Before the story even begins, Oberon’s sons Osric and Finndo supposedly conspired against their father, were caught, and sent to the front lines of a war from which they never return. The scheming and conspiracies only get worse from there.

The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne by Brian Staveley

Few fantasy sibs get their ​wires crossed as badly as the Malkeenians of Brian Staveley’s Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. Separated by vast distances in the middle of a massive conspiracy to topple their murdered father’s empire, Kaden, Adare, and Valyn each do their best to survive the crisis and fight back against the conspiracy, only to end up in deadly conflict against one another. We mean, Let’s hug this out, and just ignore these knives I’m holding kinds of conflict.

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