I posted a few weeks ago with the cover and title reveal for KM Pohlkamp’s next book, the followup to Apricots and Wolfsbane. After the shocking end of the first book, this second instalment follows Lavinia’s apprentice, Aselin Gavrell, as she deals with the aftermath of her actions in the closing pages of Apricots and Wolfsbane. So although this is a direct sequel, Shadows of Hemlock feels very different, because we have an entirely new protagonist, and being inside her mind is nothing like being inside Master Lavinia Maud’s.
I received a copy of this book from the author.
Regret is a bitter poison.
In a desperate grasp for prestige, Aselin Gavrell betrayed her master to the execution block for the advantage of the onyx pendant now around her neck. Shelter from her master’s crimes comes with an unwanted allegiance and a list of innocents to murder. But the Guild of poison assassins will not be so easily pacified and charge Aselin to develop an antidote as retribution of her betrayal.
Unprepared for the independence she craved, Aselin is forced to seek aid from a fickle contact who wants only one means of payment: a ruby ring with a mare’s head. To save herself from her master’s fate, Aselin must navigate a growing list of debtors eager to toss her aside and confront her guilt in this fast-paced tale of growth and redemption in Tudor England.
I thoroughly enjoyed this second trip into Tudor England to follow the adventures of a female poisoner. This time, having read Apricots and Wolfsbane, and engaged my brain, I wasn’t expecting any magic to jump out, so that was one of my stumbling blocks from the first book overcome.
Secondly, there was far less of a religious aspect to this book. Aselin is simply cold-blooded and doesn’t seem to have the same religious convictions which grated on me so in the first book. I realise this is utterly a personal preference, but I actually much preferred reading about Aselin’s self-centred grab for power, because although I didn’t like her, I definitely understood her. Far more so than I did her predecessor.
Lots of the same strengths from Apricots and Wolfsbane are visible here. The story is solidly plotted, building on plot threads set up in the first book, but discretely enough that it stands on its own, for the most part. Some of the events of the first book are alluded to without enough detail to jog my memory. I was left wondering who that person who’d been killed was, and why or how Lavinia and Aselin had been held captive and tested on prisoners. Perhaps that’s my own fallible memory, though, and those kind of reminders aren’t necessary for most.
I really sincerely enjoyed this book. I raced through it, much like its predecessor, while dreaming of fine jewels and lush dresses, as well as devious poisons. Aselin is thrown far out of her comfort zone from the beginning of the book, and over the course of the plot realises the terrible mistake she’s made in betraying the one person who truly cared for her. The death of her brother, from the first book, also comes back to haunt Aselin, and she spends much of the novel very isolated. Over the course of the book and her personal journey, she develops more humanity which means she evolves from being a self-centred, heartless killer to a self-centred, potentially slightly heart-full killer. Not too far removed from her origins, but enough to make this a thoroughly enjoyable ride.
Aselin’s story doesn’t end as finally as Lavinia’s, and I would definitely be excited to see more of her adventures. There are still some threads which could carry through into a third or fourth novel, but this one stands well and concludes the plots it set up. Thoroughly enjoyable.