by Maria V. Snyder
About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She’ll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace—and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.
And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly’s Dust—and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison.
As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can’t control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren’t so clear…
This is a great start to a new series. I love the characters and the exciting new universe with fresh magic rules and powers. It is a wonderful book incorporating difficult themes as well – prejudice, abuse, torture, slavery and murky morals. The story is action packed with background currents moving things along even if you have a feeling not much has happened to the protagonist. So, lot’s of tension and rapidly turning pages. 😀
What is maybe a central point of the story is the ruling system in Ixia – it is created to perpetuate abuse and exploitation of people. Mix in magic, power-hungry soldiers and nobles and you have a really shitty situation all around. I wouldn’t wish to live there, the same as with the Game of Thrones universe. Poison Study never reaches the levels of Martin’s brutality, but it doesn’t take much to be too much for some readers. Yet there’s so much beauty in this world Snyder created – the season festivals with competitions in various disciplines, dancing and athletics, sound just amazing. You’d want to see them after reading the descriptions. The people take great pride in participating there, so everyone practices what they can – maybe it’s the only thing they’ve got to look forward to in this world. It is true for some people who have lost everything when the old kingdom folded under the Commander.
The main difference between Martin and Snyder’s book is the role of women. Snyder gives them freedom enough to choose a profession, to be treated as equals. It is refreshing, let me tell you. Of course there are people who haven’t grasped the changed attitudes and behave in really abhorrent ways towards women, but there’s always a bigot or two around.
The heroine of the story is Yelena; a smart, resourceful young woman. She has a few blind spots where men are concerned, but the fact she’s far from perfect doesn’t detract from the story. In fact, it makes it more believable and Yelena more likeable. The harsh life and her captivity have taught her to withstand almost anything her enemies and allies throw at her. Her back-story is certainly not for the faint of the heart. You will truly, deeply hate the villains. The usual orphan spiel did not win points with me at first, but the more we get to learn about her the more it makes sense why the author wrote her like this. Yelena has a very compelling storyline.
Valek, the male protagonist and chief of security responsible for her, comes off all gruff and cold, but the more time he spends with Yelena, the more he starts to care. Although, to be fair, he has a poker face to kill for – can’t fool me though. I can sniff affection in novels miles away. 😀 I absolutely loved how the feelings crept up on him and Yelena. I don’t to spoil anything but this book is for people who don’t mind their romance very low-key and drawn out. The pace of their relationship and changing friendship is realistic. I was overjoyed at that after reading several books where insta-love was modus operandi for romance. Valek is a fascinating character with an impressive set of skills. He’s close to the Commander, perhaps his only true friend. They certainly make a good team.
I hope I will find the time to read the sequels soon, but even if I don’t and have to put the stories on a back-burner, I will know that a treat is waiting for me. This will be enough. 😀