Author: Amy Alward
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
The Potion Diaries is a story of love, friendship, forgiveness, deception and betrayal that should appeal to people of all ages.
The book is written in two viewpoints: the third-person past tense viewpoint of Princess Evelyn, the only daughter of the King and Queen of Nova, and the first-person present tense viewpoint of Samantha Kemi, an ordinary girl with no magic who hails from a family of alchemists.
The Kemis were at one time the alchemists to the royal family, and one of the most prominent apothecaries in Kingstown, but have now fallen on hard times as most people prefer to buy remedial potions from the synthetic potion manufacturers rather than from the alchemists.
On her 18th birthday, Princess Evelyn mistakenly drinks a love potion that she had made for Zain Aster, the son of Zoro Aster and heir to ZolAster, the wealthiest synthetic potion manufacturers in the kingdom who now enjoy the favour of the royal family.
While drinking from the goblet, Evelyn sees her own reflection and falls head over heels in love with herself. The entranced-with-herself princess becomes a danger to herself and to the kingdom, and the King calls for a Wilde Hunt, a competition inviting the alchemists of the kingdom to find a cure for the princess’ condition. Samantha and her grandfather, Ostanes Kemi, are also summoned to participate in the Hunt.
When Ostanes refuses to participate against the Asters, Samantha yearns to follow her dreams and come into her own as an alchemist. She signs up and finds herself pitted against the Asters, including Zain, on whom she has a crush, and Emilia, the King’s sister who was exiled because she dabbled in the dark arts.
Against the wishes of her granddad, Samantha and Kirsty Donovan, the Kemi family’s Finder, enter into the Hunt, only to get thrown out when their search for merpearl, the only ingredient that the princess has written down, is thwarted by Zol and his cronies. Apologetic about his father’s behaviour, Zain offers to help Samantha to classify ingredients in her shop.
While cleaning the shop, Samatha learns that her grandfather hid the merpearl they had to prevent her from participating in the Hunt. Using a truth serum to ferret out his confession, she and Kirsty take off with the merpearl to Bharat, where all the Participants have gone in search of the remaining ingredients.
Initially, they team up with the Patel siblings, Samantha’s best friend Anita, and her brother Arjun, but when they are attacked by Emilia, Kirsty decides that it is safer to split from them and work separately.
Later, the King’s evil sister vandalises the Kemi family library in search of the recipe for the love potion.
Will Samantha be able to fight the dangers posed by Emilia and Zol? Will she ever regain Anita’s friendship again?
I found the premise to be refreshingly original.
The adventure is well written and I can see youngsters enjoying the ride.
Author Amy creates a wonderful fantasy world, where magic is as real as the commercialism that gets in its way. There is something fairy-tale-like about the setting. From Kingstown which was built on the remains of an extinct volcano.
This is a world of mythic creatures like mermaids and sentient plants like the eluvium ivy.
The language is beautiful. In one instance, Amy describes the forest as a sacred place – a natural cathedral, a living library, an organic lab.
The fact that screens at bus stops and on screens get transformed into customized video message boxes for individuals reminded me of Back to the Future 2. I also found the concept of Transport, a strange form of Teleporting involving touching through screens and maintaining eye contact, interesting.
I liked the references to other parts of the world. Often novels tend to be America-centric even when set on another planet. Here there are references to Bharat and Zambi, the India and Zambia of this world.
At first, I thought that Bharat was just a token reference. But the land known by India’s ancient name is without doubt, the India that I know of, albeit set on a planet where magic reigns supreme. The land of the Ayurveda, which is full of concoctions and mixtures and pastes, translating into the Potions of this world. References to Indian culture were clearly visible in Bharat.
While on the subject, I must mention that Hallah is a diminution of the name, Himalayas. And Mount Oberon is Mount Everest, while the abominable Yeti is known here as just the abominable.
I also appreciated the Indian characters, the Patel family. Daughter Anita is Samantha’s best friend, and her brother, Arjun, and her parents are good people, and Samantha is attached to all of them. When they were first mentioned, I hoped they were not just token characters, and it was satisfying to see that they were not.
I liked Samantha. She is a list person, and makes up lists for almost everything. List of things to ask Kirsty; list of things to repair etc.
I found Samantha to be a lot like me. Apart from her tendency to make lists for everything, she says of the Hunt, They’re not for people who would rather live their adventures through characters in books. I like staying home, thank-you-very-much, where I know I can always find a plug point for my laptop, I’m never ten steps from a kettle to boil for tea, and I can go to sleep wrapped up in the comfort of my own duvet.
Yet she gives in to her dream and agrees to participate in the Hunt, with Kirsty as her Finder, against the wishes of her grandfather.
It was good to see the team work and the mental affinity between Samantha and Kirsty.
The title, The Potion Diaries, refers to the diaries maintained by alchemists, in which they note down their recipes, notes and dreams.
A sweet adventure that youngsters particularly will enjoy.