Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review: Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

Title: Poison Study
Author: Maria V. Snyder
Series: Study #1
Pages: 409
Publisher: Mira Books
Date Published: June 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Library

Choose: a quick death, or a slow poison...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… 

My Review:
I absolutely LOVED this book! I read it at a time when I had been neck deep in mediocre review books and piles of fluffy chick-lit and I could feel myself about to just chuck everything out the window and go swimming or something for the last weeks of summer. Luckily, I picked up Poison Study or I doubt I would even be posting things right now. I swear, I was that close to just dropping everything for weeks! Poison Study is everything that you want in a fantasy book and more, especially because of the completely unique premise. I mean, come on....when was the last time you read about a convicted murderer turned poison taster for the leader of their country? Exactly. The originality of the concept paired with relateable characters and a solid plot made for just the read I was looking for to keep me from the edge.

The character of Yelena was absolutely fantastic. She's tough as nails, a hardened criminal, yet at the same time she is someone you feel like you have to befriend or just rely on. We find out that though she was guilty of the murder that got her imprisoned in the castle, many of us would have made the same choice if put into the circumstances that Yelena was. I loved that she was such a strong fighter, never giving in to the cruelty of her master, or the threat of poison, or even the disdain of the rest of the staff once she becomes the Commander's food taster.  She also tries really hard to better her situation no matter the consequences. She throws herself headfirst into her work as food taster, then because she still doesn't feel safe enough she starts training with the palace guard to learn how to fight. And believe me, in this world, you really REALLY should learn how to fight properly...

This fantastic world that Snyder created is completely overlaid with different levels, not only of character development but of a really creative society that is absolutely nothing like our own. I was actually a little freaked out by the sheer military and utilitarian dominance shown by the Commander and Ixia. It's written like a typical fantasy with castles and villages and all that, but the way that the districts are divided into uniform blocks and the precise way they are monitored and utilized was kind of quietly terrifying. Each district has a commander and a color. If you live in a certain district you have a uniform in that color that immediately shows your status and class. You have to ask permission to move, marry, open a shop...anything...kind of scary.I don't think I've ever seen such a controlled and precisely detailed society created in all of the books I've read recently. Actually...now that I think about it...the fixed square designs of Ixia kind of brought to mind the cubic layout that Snyder favors in her space ship later on when she writes Inside Out. Hmm...maybe she just likes to play with Rubix cubes and it shows in her designs? lol

There is definitely a romance between Yelena and Valek, but while a lot of book romances seem forced when they occur over one novel, Yelena and Valek really grow as characters individually and only THEN grow as a couple.Valek starts off as more of an antagonist than anything. You are suspicious of him from the beginning, and the fact that he's an assassin and is so....ruthlessly efficient at what he does kind of makes you leery of him. Having Yelena face off against, and actually have to be submissive (kind of), to such a dangerous and brutal character really added the spice of excitement to the plot.You get a kind of electric charge in the mood when they are together but it's a quiet and subtle force that just grows during their entire relationship until it finally surfaces and you breathe a sigh of relief that they FINALLY get together. To me, that is much more satisfying than any love at first sight or "soul mate" type romance.

In addition to two fantastic lead characters, there was an entire cast of supporting characters that were really well developed and have their own unique personalities. My favorites were the "comic relief" duo of Ari and Janco. Though the pair are the baddest and best of the Commander's soldiers, they also have some hilarious banter that tends to be at the expense of our tough heroine and I love that they are so good to her despite her dubious past as convicted criminal. Of course you can't forget the reasons that Yelena was in prison in the first place: Brazell and his son were very sinister and disturbing in their own ways. They all had ambitions and goals driving them towards acting in certain ways and I loved the complexity of each character. There was always more than one possible motive and you had to peel back their layers in order to figure out where the story was heading.

I enjoyed Snyder's writing style though it did get a little dry at times. There was a lot of information to pack into the chapters and I don't mean just plot and character development. Maria had to create an interesting, yet informative way of instructing Yelena not only about the castle but about the different poisons she would encounter and how to actually taste test food. Sometimes there was a bit of info-dumping in sections like this, but I actually enjoyed them because I've never heard anything about that kind of profession so I had nothing to compare the situation to.  There's also just something so...numbing...about Maria's writing. I don't mean that in a bad way either. It's like there's something soothing in the way she writes and it kind of lulls you into a gentle stupor where you're just enjoying the story at a leisurely pace and you don't want to rush, you just kind of flow along with the characters to eventually figure out where they're headed. Though it made for a very relaxing reading experience, it also tended to ease me into a light doze every now and again....lol...I hope that made sense...
Poison Study gets 4.5 Keys from me! It was a wonderfully crafted piece of fantasy fabulousness. I loved the charge of constant threat and danger that permeated the entire novel and kept you on your toes the whole time. Fans of high fantasy/adventure novels will absolutely LOVE Poison Study. And for those of you who love more magic in your fantasy realms, you are in for a treat in the next book (yes...I admit that I couldn't wait to write the review to start book two...I loved the series too much!) Magic Study takes us to an entirely different sort of world as Yelena heads south to try and find her family and be trained in her latent magical gifts! You should DEFINITELY give this series a chance.


  1. Andrea this sounds simply amazing from the protagonist to the world building..adding this one to my list. Did you read Throne of Glass?

  2. You should DEFINITELY check this one out chick! :) I haven't read Throne of Glass yet, but I've heard of it! Would you reccomend??? :D

  3. Wonderful. I have this one on the shelves waiting for me. I've heard this one is very good, and from a few people the next ones are okay, but I really want to get to this series. :) Thanks for the review.

  4. I need to read this series! It has been on my radar for a while. Great review, Andra. :D

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