The Antidote has an intriguing plot, but sadly underdeveloped characters


While Shelley Sackier’s The Antidote boasts an intriguing story that’s full of twists, the underdeveloped characters make it difficult to care about its resolution.

Every so often, you come across a novel that has a great story. Maybe an author puts a particularly good spin on something that you feel like you’ve seen before. Perhaps they address popular tropes in an interesting way. Or maybe they throw a few jaw-dropping twists you never saw coming.

And on some level, Shelly Sackier’s The Antidote is that book. It takes familiar tropes – scrappy heroine with special abilities in a land where magic is forbidden – and dumps a million twists on top that will keep you turning the pages. It laces two stories across two timelines together, with everything from secret identities to romantic betrayals to surprise parents to several decades’ worth of revenge thrown in. There’s also even a subplot about…stealing the kingdom’s main financial export for personal gain?

This books honestly throws everything at the wall. And sometimes it works.

But, sadly, a lot of the times it doesn’t.

Sure, The Antidote is filled with enough twists that you’ll keep reading just to find out what happens next. But you won’t actually care about any of the people in the story, and that’s honestly a real shame. (Because you’ll want to. You just…won’t.)

Sackier’s novel is so focused on packing its story with shocks that it forgets to give us any real people to root for. We spend most of the story with Fee, a young healer with a magical secret (as in, she has some) in a kingdom that’s been kept under quarantine for a decade thanks to a plague outbreak. Her best friend, the Crown Prince Xavi, suffers from a debilitating illness that no one’s been able to cure, and Fee has dedicated herself to studying so that she might one day save his life. Other random notes: She’s betrothed to Xavi’s brother Rye, who’s been shipped off to a neighboring country to wait out the quarantine.

One of the best things about this set-up is that The Antidote never tries it into a love triangle – in fact, Rye and Fee are pretty into each other from start to finish, even though the book makes up a random reason to keep them apart. Fee’s dedication to Xavi is understandable – other than her mentor/substitute mom Saava he’s the only person she’s even allowed to see during the quarantine – and their friendship is genuine and sweet.

It’s a shame that no one is really given time or space to wrestle what the actual reason for Xavi’s illness turns out to be. It’s so bonkers that multiple characters are affected by it, but by this point everyone just rolls past it like it’s no big deal.

Fee’s journey is a messy one, as she not only works to save her best friend’s life, but discovers secrets about his family, her family, and history of the kingdom they share. She’s helped along by a rotating cast of supporting characters, most of whom are never fleshed out in any real way. That’s a problem that The Antidote frequently suffers from: an army of secondary characters whose motivations are paper thin.

Why does a powerful nobleman betray the country he’s supposed to serve? Plot twist. Who are these random witches that show up out of the blue? It kind of doesn’t matter.  Why does that character betray someone they’re supposed to care about? Shrug emoji. Why do they then change their mind almost immediately afterward? No idea.

Even the surprising reason behind the existence of the titular antidote is kind of murky, in a way that sort of makes sense…but also totally doesn’t. (Pssst: If anyone figures out why everyone in the kingdom has to take it, please tweet at me.)

Basically, how much you enjoy The Antidote will depend on what you’re looking for a novel to do. Do you just want a story that doesn’t quit? Are you here to gasp in disbelief every few pages as something crazy happens and/or characters abruptly change their loyalties and goals? You’ll enjoy this ride. It’s a rollercoaster of a YA soap opera, and it’s definitely hard to argue that’s not fun.

But if you want demonstrable character development, this might not be the book for you.

Only Fee undergoes anything that might be called a real journey, in that she possesses a significantly different understanding of herself at the end of the novel than she does at the beginning. The rest of the characters – even those who commit shocking acts or experience massive changes in their personal circumstances – don’t have much in the way of a point of view. They do things – or are revealed to have previously done things, often – simply because the story requires them, so that it can move on to its next beat.

What often distinguishes YA fantasy stories like this from one another are the characters at their centers. And The Antidote honestly doesn’t do enough in this regard, frequently leaving things like motivation and goals for readers to guess at and ignoring the emotional inner lives of almost every character besides its main heroine. Even its villain – who at least has an understandable enough initial motivation – makes moves throughout the story that are flummoxing in their randomness.

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If you’re here for a surprising tale, you’ll be just fine. But if you want to know what drives any of the characters who rocket from plot point A to plot point B, The Antidote will likely leave you disappointed.