Review: Numenera: The Poison Eater by Shanna Germain
Genre: Science Fantasy
Publisher: Angry Robot
One can sum the theme of The Poison Eater with one word: secrets, and if one was interested in exploring more one could say that it’s about protective secrets. Set mostly in the city of Enthait the story centers round Talia, the Poison Eater. Her job is to at regular intervals ingest poison, in the end ten different kinds, and through this see visions of threats while also endangering her own life. Once all the poisons have been taken she will be the Orness, the ruler of the City, and in charge of the aria, an apparently great weapon in her charge. The job of Poison Eater is pivotal for the existence of Enthait and the people, who depend upon the visions in order to send out soldiers to cut off the threat, a ritual that ensures the safety of the community, but that ritual comes with a price; the possible death of the Poison Eater. Talia is well aware of this and has managed to survive seven poisons, a feat not pulled off by many others, even if she has a secret; the fact that she is not the Poison Eater at all.
A stranger to Enthait, arriving alongside a mechbeast named Khee, she has managed to hide her violent past and has taken the position in order to take control of the aria so she can exact revenge on the monsters that haunt her dreams. Living in constant fear of being revealed as the fraud she is it becomes evident that she is not the only one who is keeping secrets, that in fact there are deeper secrets going around in Enthait, and that the reason for her survival so far might not be able to help her anymore.
The Poison Eater is the first fiction based in the role playing world of Numenera, a science fiction world mixing futuristic technology and a fantasy setting, one billion years in the future. Though it takes place on Earth, this is never addressed in the story. It is unclear how much the reader must be aware of this world or is expected to be aware of it. The story in itself is not affected by this knowledge, but Germain does leave quite a few things out; like the terminology the characters use. They make reference to certain objects or jobs that the reader has to guess at, but becomes clearer the farther one reads. It is understandable if some might lose interest in reading when words are not explained and even though holes in a story usually is a good thing it at times can take the reader out of the tale.
The story of Talia the Poison Eater is intriguing enough on its own and the backdrop of Numenera as a setting is not really necessary. That being said, the omission of details pertaining to terminology and the history of Enthait or the so called vordcha is a bit much to overlook. It makes the emotional connection to the main character and the other figures who pass through the story almost non existent and it is difficult to invest the book. Germain has the ability to create and interesting plot and the thought of a futuristic dystopian world where past technology is still being used is fascinating, but unfortunately it never comes together as something the reader gets to sink their teeth into. For the bright spots in the book there are dark ones that take away from them and in the end the latter ones outweigh the former.