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Poison Study (Poison Study #1) by Maria V. Snyder
Published March 1st 2007 by Mira
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Choose: A quick death…Or 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…

Poison Study has been on my wishlist for so, so long, and so many recommended lists have had at least one book by Maria V. Snyder on it, so really, what took me this long (at least seven years!!)?

In hindsight, part of my reaction might be on me. I’m not a avid a fan of romance as I used to be, and I’ve definitely become a lot pickier. But Poison Study was supposed to be a lot of different and interesting things – primarily, a poison tester! court intrigue! – and, while the resulting book wasn’t bad – I enjoyed it, and the characters were definitely the highlight – I think I would’ve enjoyed it a lot more a few years ago.

The transitions felt a little weird. It’s not that they were nonexistent, but they were set up in ways that disrupted the flow of the preceding and succeeding story. The breaks between scenes and switches between trains of thought felt jumpy at times, and all too brief at others. It makes chunks of the writing feel – what’s the word? something like fleeting? but with bad connotations? – and takes away a lot of the building tension and emotion, too, and overall just detracts from the story. In the same vein, the foreshadowing. It… wasn’t great? I won’t say what happened, but we aren’t fed breadcrumbs so much as we’re fed entire loaves.

And, okay, confession time: I don’t like Valek. I thought he was okay at the beginning, but as the story progressed, he just got more standoffish and demanding. He’s very obviously set up across from Yelena as the love interest, but most scenes with him just make me wish he was anything but. He irrationally gives her the cold shoulder out of the blue – nothing happens! he just gives her the cold shoulder! – and then a couple pages he just. Returns to normal? And nothing more is said on the topic? Like, okay. Most everyone else treats her awfully, particularly at the beginning, and I get it! It would be weird and unrealistic if they didn’t, seeing as she is a criminal and a murderer. And, Maren’s cold to her throughout, but I found myself really liking Maren, because to Yelena, she’s a trainer. And she’s cold but not an asshole, you feel? But Valek runs hot and cold, nice and asshole-y, on a hair-trigger, and he’s clearly set up to be her love interest, so here we have some problems. His holier-than-thou attitude air, especially in that one scene in which Yelena asks what she’s learned from him, and he replies with his attention – his attention?? after eeeeverything she’s accomplished at that point in the story???? – rubbed me the wrong way, to say the least. He does have his brief oh-no-he-s-cute moments – what can I say, I’m weak for the dark and brooding ML trope – but, for the vast majority of the time? Eeeeeh. I also really didn’t see how their relationship developed? One minute they seemed like employer and employee and then the next she and Rand are yelling and she realizes her ~feelings~. Gradual development, there is not.

I really liked Ari and Janco! And, as aforementioned, Maren! I liked the dynamic the author had set up, both between the two as well as between them and the rest of the characters. I love the little tight-knit family they developed between themselves. Their training sessions were one of the highlights of Poison Study for me, and I really wished we could’ve seen more of them!

OH. The one thing I was super on-the-edge about? The Commander. No spoilers, so I’m not going to dive deep into it, but. I have. Many thoughts.

The rest of the story’s pretty standard magical YA fantasy, in my opinion. The cast of supporting characters prop it all up, and the poison-eater element gives it a spark. It’s cool to see how everything slots together; I can really appreciate how the author managed to combine so many elements – spies, acrobatics, magic, political intrigue, food, psychological demons, and more – into one cohesive novel. It keeps you reading, despite the cons. I definitely appreciate how solid and thought-out a lot of Yelena’s turning-point choices felt, as if they were truly given their proper weight, as well as the non-cliffhanger-y, hopeful ending. As for the way it all developed, on paper, overall, from the set up to the conflict to the resolution, it’s very on par with most YA fantasy.

And while Poison Study isn’t groundbreaking by any stretch, it’s a pretty solid read, especially for fans of the genre.