Title: Poison Study
Author: Maria V. Snyder
Genre: Young Adult
Publication Date: October 2005
Rating: 4/5 stars
Choose: a quick death or slow poison….
On the eve of her execution for murder, Yelena Zaltana is offered an incredible reprieve – on the condition that she becomes the food taster for the military leader of Ixia, Commander Ambrose.
Avoiding poison is the least of her troubles, however …. General Brazell, the father of the man she killed, has vowed bloody revenge; she’s beginning to have feelings for her captor, Valek; and someone is plotting the downfall of the current regime.
In a desperate race against time, Yelena must learn to control the growing magical talents within her and master the demons of her past. The Commander’s life, the future of Ixia and all those she loves depend on it….
I know this is yet another young adult fantasy series, but there are just too many good ones out there. My lovely colleague recommended Maria Snyder to me and I must say – I adored it!
Yelena must choose between execution or becoming the poison taster of Ixia’s Commander. Her tutor and boss, Valek, teaches her the many nuances of poison tasting and helps her cope with the intrigues of court. Accused of the murder of General Brazell’s son, she must also be on her guard for his plots to kill her.
There is something afoot when General Brazell delivers an amazing dessert to the Commander. Valek is suspicious, but it is not poison. However, the Commander begins to behave increasingly strangely. With few people he can turn to, Valek asks for Yelena’s aid in uncovering Brazell’s ulterior motives.
In this first book, there is the mystery of Yelena’s past – we aren’t quite sure what led to her becoming a murderer. I will warn everybody that there is a rape flashback, which is rather nasty, but not too gruesome for young adult, as some authors tend to do. I think it is important at times to have these scenes, highlighting the harshness of the both the fantasy world and our own. It is almost at times easier to explore these issues in the realm of fantasy, where it is far enough removed from our own world that we can consider them in a different way.
Yelena is an excellent character and I really enjoyed reading the book through her voice. I did have a problem with the romance though. While I loved Valek’s character, I initially thought he was an old man, which made the romance blossoming between him and Yelena a bit gross. But on reading back, it was obvious that that was my error…. Oops! I always imagine spymasters as older men with grey hair!
It is interesting to see Snyder’s world – Ixia is a sort of communist society, still reeling from the downfall of the monarchy. In later books, Yelena travels to Ixia’s neighbour, Sitia, and it is great to see the contrasts between the two cultures. There is also magic in the world, yet it is forbidden in Ixia, which makes it dangerous for Yelena when she discovers her power.
The next few books aren’t as amazing as the first, but they are still incredibly entertaining. As Yelena moves into Sitia, we get a greater glimpse at the magic running through the world, and the plots of the later books focus on the magicians and their intrigues. I really like the tribes described in the later books – it is fabulous seeing how the different groups live and the vibrance of their cultures.
It is a really great series, almost on par with ‘Throne of Glass’, though not quite. Yelena is probably a more likeable main character than Caelena (though Caelena is still my favourite!), and there is less of a focus on the romance in ‘Poison Study’, which is a bonus, but I still prefer the world Maas has created.
The fourth book, ‘Shadow Study’ is due out in March, and I can’t wait to read more about Yelena and her adventures!