Title: Poison Study
Author: Maria V. Snyder
Target Audience: Older teens and adults. This novel falls smack dab on the blurry border between young adult and adult fiction; while some bookstores house this under YA section, many place it with the adult fantasy books using a different cover.
Pages: Paperback - 416 pages
Choose: A quick death and hell or slow poison and hell.
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. - summary from Goodreads.com
After spending months questing for the perfect fantasy read, I finally encountered Poison Study, and my first impression from the engrossing premise was that this would be a fantastic read. Fortunately, my assumption was right, and Synder's novel transcended my expectations by miles, refurbishing my love of reading. Snyder successfully amalgamates magic, mystery, romance, and action, forming a irresistible, utterly mesmerizing novel that forever ensnared me in its spellbinding net.
The compelling, addicting plot is like eating a giant, moist wedge of red velvet cake after a box of bland Saltines. On the first page, I was hurled straight into the dungeon, where a doomed girl named Yelena awaits her hanging. Instead of being executed as planned, the head of security offers Yelena a better – though possibly worse – choice: to be the poison taster for the Commander of Ixia. Though saved from execution, Yelena is still at risk. Everyday is a struggle for survival, haunted by a cruel past. This looming sense of constant danger drives the story onward, never permitting a dull moment:
I rose, my head spinning. “Is it lethal?”
“A big enough dose will kill you in two days. The symptoms don’t arrive until the second day, but by then it’s too late.”
“Did I have a lethal dose?” I held my breath.
“Of course. Anything less and you wouldn’t have tasted the poison.” - page 19
This tense instant of danger occurs when Valek, chief of security, poisons Yelena with the lethal Butterfly’s Dust in order to prevent her from running away. A plethora of these scary moments exists, propelling the book to a fast gait. Snyder, a grandmaster of foreshadowing, splashes seemingly insignificant hints and clues amidst the pages, resulting in a complex story, so I kept stumbling into surprises – some obvious, some not – that made me gasp. Interlaced with more darker themes than most young adult novels, Poison Study deals with violence, murder, and sexual abuse. However, these heavy themes are necessary for the story, and sorrowfully, are concepts that some teenagers face today.
This book has a vivid setting, a place where any reader can immerse themselves in. The militarized world of Ixia, a refreshing change from the typical monarchy that fantasy books often have, fills Poison Study with flavor and vibe. Lead by the domineering Commander, Ixia has eliminated the previous corrupt King and transformed the land into a militarist area sliced into Districts. Snyder, an amazing world builder, brings this world to life, buttressing it with rich history of tainted kings who ruled unethically, before the Commander seized control and brought about different ways. The Commander, while wise, rules Ixia with a harsh hand. Though his Code of Behavior, the inflexible, strict set of laws, prevents crime, poverty, and lack of order, it is also very controlling. Citizens who don't don their uniforms are chained to the town square naked, no excuses. Anybody who kills another person, even if by accident or in self defense, is hanged. The new form of government frowns upon the arts and requires paperwork for almost everything. The Commander's rigid rules show an insight to his fascinating personality, especially since he harbors a major secret, a secret that makes him selfish but all the more intriguing.
Snyder paints her characters deep, layered profiles. Though older than most YA heroines at nineteen, Yelena is an interesting protagonist and an intelligent, strong young woman, tarnished by a brutal, disturbing personal history; memories of Reyad, the man she killed, haunt and harass her throughout the novel. Readers can easily slide into Yelena's shoes, and I liked relatability of her choices and mistakes. Never making me want to bellow at her in frustration, she is resourceful and clever, a girl with inspiring independence; when men try to kill her, instead of running away squealing for help, she learns self defense to beat them up. Valek, the Commander's chief of security, is untrustworthy, ruthless, and crafty, making him another prominent figure of Poison Study's cast. Alas, my liking for him slightly declined toward the end, when he began to shy away from his devious character. Ari and Janco, two humorous, goodhearted soldiers, add comic relief in contrast to the story's foreboding tide. I love how even though Yelena secures a strong friendship with the castle's talented head cook, Rand, she still thinks of him in shades of gray; young adult books often tend to have their protagonists befriend somebody and then portray him or her in either black or white, bad or good. Rand is the complicated type of character that more novels need, a person complex enough that he could easily have been snatched from the real world.
The refreshing romance, subtle and powerful, snuck up on me opposed to dancing in front of my face and giggling, like many sappy relationships in young adult books do. The relationship maintained its engrossing, cogent qualities, definitely branding it as one of the most interesting romances in young adult fiction. Unfortunately, some icky qualities weighed down the good attributes, and a dollap of cringe-worthy cheesiness crept in at the end.
Poison Study reminds me of the reason I love books. My favorite novels project me into their worlds, where I can live as a different person, completely immersed in another land. These escapist books include The Hunger Games, the Harry Potter series, and Graceling, with Poison Study joining the elite list. Though I read this book while vacationing in stunning Yosemite, encompassed by the looming cliffs of rock and shimmering waterfalls, I lived a parallel life in the Commander's castle. When bears lumbered outside the tent, ten feet away, I still could not tear my eyes away from the page. I completely agree with Publisher's Weekly when they reviewed Poison Study, saying, “...this is one of those rare books that will keep readers dreaming long after they've read it.” This consummate fantasy is a must read for all book lovers, and like me, most readers will immediately stampede to the store to purchase the two sequels upon reaching the last page.
Cover: 3/5 – The green vines that snake across the cover are gorgeous, though otherwise, nothing about this cover strikes me.
Books like this:
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Fire by Kristin Cashore
If you know of any other fantasies like Poison Study and the ones above, please let me know in the comments! I would love to read it.
Source: Bought from bookstore. I think you should buy it too. :)