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Review: Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

24 Sep

Series: Study, book #1

Published: March 1st 2004 by Luna

Details: Paperback, 416 pages

My Rating: 5/5

My Summary:

About Yelena, awaiting execution for a murder she comitted in miltary state Ixia. Instead of execution though, she is offered a place as the Commander’s food taster, thus her new life begins. This novel was so good on so many levels, it blew me away!!!A must read!!!! Sequel called Magic Study.

A few chapters in:

This is the highly acclaimed first book in the Study Trilogy. I have been wanting to read it for quite some time. I’m glad to finally have started, as it seems just as good as I thought it would be.

At the start of the book we find Yelena, the heroine, imprisoned and chained to a wall in a dungeon, awaiting the execution for a murder she committed a year previously. She is taken up for what she thinks is the execution, then learns that she is given the choice to instead become the new food taster of the commander. Naturally she accepts and her food taster career begins, meaning she has to learn to recognize and differentiate various poisons. Her trainer Valek is an expert, and he seems to be taking her under his wings, all though I am not yet sure of his intentions. He doesn’t seem like the most empathetic person out there. It remains to be seen.

I’m only a few chapters in, and let me tell you, I am really invested into the story already. It’s well written, it’s intriguing, it’s original. Let’s hope it continues that way!

After finishing the book:

Wow, I have one word for this book..AMAZING. I was addicted right from the start, yet managed to read the first 100 pages or so in a somewhat normal pace. After that, there was no stopping me and I read the rest in one sitting. Went to bed that night at around 4 am. Yes, this is addicting stuff.

It’s been a few days now since I finished the book, and I’m still thinking about it, so much in fact that I have a hard time getting into a new book. Did I say it was addicting?

Right, so no more rambling and let’s get on with the review.

As stated above, this is about Yelena who at the start of the book finds herself being the new food taster for the commander. The commander is the head general of Ixia, a land used to be ruled by royalty, but who’s king was overthrown by the military regimen. The new Ixia has been divided into several military districts and is controlled in a way similar to a communist military dictatorship. Everyone has equal rights (including men and women), and only your skills and achievements count, rather than you heritage or wealth. It is also very controlled. Any changes, such as location, profession etc need approval from higher authorities.

This whole world-building was an interesting back-drop to the story. It is acknowledged that the military system is not perfect, but neither was the King’s rulership. Snyder does not push you to think that way or the other – it’s just described as the way it is.

Yelena was charged for murdering her benefactor Reyad, at the child orphanage where she grew up. Little by little we get glimpses to the events that led her to murdering Reyad, and those events are truly horrible. I loved though that Yelena stands up for what she has done. She takes the consequences without excuses, and does not want pity. She did what she had to do, end of story. She wonders if she lost her soul though and she is faced with guilt – she’s only human – but I admire her strength on accepting her faith.

For most part of the story Yelena faces many dangers, the food taster’s profession being only one of them. General Brazell, whose son she murdered is bent on revenge, and consistently tries to inflict her harm. A strange woman from the neighbouring country Sitia is also after her. And there is Margg, the unfriendly house-keeper and Nix, a guard who seems to hate her.

Then there is Valek, her trainer in food poising and a Rand in the kitchen. Who can she trust? For most part of the book, I’m wondering along with Yelena who she should and should¬† not trust. Because if she trusts the wrong person, that may mean the end.

After several near fatal attacks, Yelena herself realizes that one way to keep herself safe is to start training and learning self-defense. She finds two friends in the guards – the wonderfully drawn secondary characters Ari and Janco – and together they teach each other tactics on the art of self-defense.

In short, the mixture of what I just described is what I loved. That is; the world-building, the developement of Yelena as she grows stronger, the constant dangers she’s under, the glimpses we get of her life before the murder, and the new friends (or enemies) she gains at the castle. There is not one boring moment in this story, hence the page-turner effect.

Of all this, what I loved the most though was Valek and his growing affection for Yelena. It is so subtle at the beginning I was wondering if I felt it right. Valek is supposed to be Yelena’s enemy. He is the one poisoning her with Butterfly’s Dust to prevent her from escaping. Yet, early on, he seems preoccupied with her welfare. After Yelena is attacked by one of general Brazell’s guards, he lets her move into his suite. He saves her life during another attack at the fire festival, and he has great faith in her abilities.

Yet, I am never sure of his intentions, whether she is a brick in the grander scheme of his plans or if there may be feelings involved. After all, Valek is a cold-blooded dangerous man. He is the commander’s right hand, the head of the regimens intelligence network and not to forget also a professional assassin. In short, not the normal romantic love interest you may find in young adult fiction.

Without saying too much, their relationship however does grow into something eventually and it is one of the most believable, genuine and sweetest things I have read in some time. Absolutely wonderful!!!

The Bottom Line:

There are two more books in the series. Magic Study is the sequel. I have heard that the series decline after Poison Study, whether that is true or not remains to be seen. I will have to read the rest, as I need to revisit this world again. Need as in addicted need!

In short, what a wonderful book. If you haven’t read it yet, do it now! You won’t regret it!!!