ARC Review: The Poison Bed by Elizabeth Fremantle

ThePoisonBedCoverOfficial Synopsis from Goodreads: Elizabeth Fremantle’s THE POISON BED is a chilling, noirish thriller ripped straight from the headlines.

A king, his lover and his lover’s wife. One is a killer.

In the autumn of 1615 scandal rocks the Jacobean court when a celebrated couple are imprisoned on suspicion of murder. She is young, captivating and from a notorious family. He is one of the richest and most powerful men in the kingdom.

Some believe she is innocent; others think her wicked or insane. He claims no knowledge of the murder. The king suspects them both, though it is his secret at stake.

Who is telling the truth? Who has the most to lose? And who is willing to commit murder?

Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: Jacobean England

***I received an eARC copy of The Poison Bed from the publisher, Pegasus Books, via NetGalley***

*** this post contains affiliate links ***

Review: Full of unlikeable characters and scheming! This was not the book for me. The Poison Bed by Elizabeth Fremantle was a read that I requested on NetGalley because the cover was just so darn beautiful. The synopsis sounded pretty good, too, as I love a good historical mystery. However, this book just was not the one for me!

The chapters are narrated by “Her” (Frances Howard) and “Him” (Robert Carr), with the “Her” chapters told in a combination of both first person and third person, as Frances narrates her story to a midwife, and the “Him” chapters are told in third person. I didn’t care for this narration style. First off, the chapter titles of “Her” and “Him” bugged me. There is zero mystery as to who “Her” and “Him” refer to, so why couldn’t their names have been used instead? Also, with the shifting third person to first person in the “Her” chapters, I found it confusing and jarring, and when the shift happened I’d be thrown for a few paragraphs before getting back into it.

Frances and Robert are both interesting but unlikeable characters. Frances is a scheming, power hungry woman, and Robert shares the king’s bed, but has his own goals and plans. Frances and Robert fall in love, and The Poison Bed tells of their romance and the mystery of the murder of Thomas Overbury, who was very close friends with Robert. The Poison Bed is based on a true story. Frances Howard and Robert Carr did get married, Thomas Overbury was murdered, and Frances and Robert were both imprisoned for his murder. I think that even if you already know the history of the scandal, you’d still find the plot of this story interesting. I read up on it a bit before starting this book, and the plot still intrigued me. And you know I can’t reveal if it ends the same way history does!

While I was interested in the story, the lack of decency by any of the characters was tough for me to read. I couldn’t root for anyone to succeed or survive, as they were all just so awful to each other. Everyone seemed to have a secret lover, and they were all so devious, scheming, and lacking in basic humanity that I didn’t care what happened to any of the characters. I didn’t react when a bad character met a bad end, and I didn’t react when a bad character got a good end. I just flat out did not care what happened, and that was my main problem with the book. There were moments of surprise for me, the Jacobean setting was interesting, and I did read this fairly quickly, so I know that there are readers out there who will really enjoy this, it just wasn’t a read for me! I need me some likable characters in my books!

Bottom Line: Too many unlikable characters and scheming for me!

LINKS ***the Amazon link is an affiliate link which means I receive a small commission if you click the link and make a purchase***


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8 thoughts on “ARC Review: The Poison Bed by Elizabeth Fremantle

  1. Nope! The Her and Him would drive me crazy – definitely names, or maybe He and She, but not Her and Him! That and the shifting tenses would put me off even if I could put up with the unlikeable characters…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Her and Him really threw me!! And then when I tried to write this review the titles sounded even more ridiculous! I think the shifting tenses could’ve been handled better – I’ve read books where this tactic is used and it’s been done well, but here the transitions weren’t done as cleanly as they could’ve been, and it took a few chapters before I could get into the rhythm of the “Her” chapters.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A writer I met on Goodreads asked if she could send me her debut novel a year or two ago. I was so happy to support her, as she is an African American women writing about the Harlem Renaissance. However, I read her book and it was ALL sex and scheming and power-hungry weirdos who use sex to get what they want. I hated every character, and I just didn’t understand. I guess that somewhere in the back of my head I think that a character continually having sex with someone who is just using them is both boring and degrading. I felt that it reduced the characters to animals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s hard when the characters are so unlikable! And it’s funny because I read a popular YA series (The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King – my review will be up in a week or two), and it also has characters who engage in scheming galore, but the characters were just more relatable and likable – even though all they did was schemes, lies, and betrayals. There’s a fine line, and I’m not sure what that line is and how you make the characters likable even with all of their scheming. The “sex as a weapon and/or means to an end” was used so much in this book, and that doesn’t always bother me – after all, many women in this time period and earlier time periods that was one of the only things they could use. So, I’m not quite sure why these characters were so unlikable. But I did not care at all what happened to them!


      1. I don’t think that I didn’t like the Harlem Renaissance book because the characters were unlikable, but more so because the motive was something as simple, yet confusing, as “I want power over this person.” Like, why for, yo? I mean, I just didn’t understand the motivation of any character. A time period during which women use sex to get what they want makes sense to me; oftentimes, it’s their only currency, and they’re trying to buy a stable, maybe even comfortable life. That I totally understand. In the book I read, everyone was wealthy, liked, popular in society, and sexy. And they wanted to have sex to feel some modicum of power over the other person, who felt the exact same way. If an unlikable person has a convincing motive, I’m down with it.

        Liked by 1 person

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