Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

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...

Where to Buy

An engaging tale of a young woman who's been dealt one hell of a crap hand in life who nevertheless makes the best of things and refuses to be beaten down. Set in a rich fantasy world, the story is reminiscent in tone of many different classic fantasy tales. The story of Yelena's life as the Food Taster and the various plots and schemes that she becomes caught up in, usually by accident, take center stage here and weave a tale that will keep you eagerly turning pages, and a touch of light romance is thrown in toward the end to put a bit of frosting on the cake.

Yelena, at only 19, has already been through a lot. When we first see her, she's been largely left to rot in a cell in the Commander's dungeon while she awaits her execution for murder. A murder that she freely admits she committed. Just when she thinks her number is finally up, however, she is given the opportunity to become the Commander's Food Taster, a position that is highly dangerous, and may not afford her much greater longevity, though it does promise to give her a large amount of freedom, and a measure of hope that she might be able to turn her situation around, something she hasn't had in a very long time. As the book unfolds, we learn more and more about all that Yelena has had to endure in her life, and the things that she continues to endure, but through it all her indomitable spirit shines through. Never once is she tempted to just give up, since the odds seem to be insurmountable and completely stacked against her, instead she is constantly searching for a way out or a way around the obstacles in her path. She watches, and plans, and remains alert to any opportunity that might present itself, and is usually quick to take advantage when one does. Even when it seems that all hope has been lost and escape is impossible she still holds on to hope, and she still searches for a solution to the problem, for a way out. She may often be victimized by those around her, but she refuses to act the victim, always taking charge of her own life and fighting to be given the respect she has earned once she's earned it.

Valek often seems to be little more than the stereotypical highly-skilled spymaster and assassin that he is. Tightly controlled, and ruled by logic and intellect rather than passion, he often comes off as cold and unfeeling. Even early on, however, we start to catch glimpses of the man behind that mask, and gradually we start to see him as far more than just a cold-blooded killing machine. To begin with, it's clear from nearly the beginning that he isn't without a sense of compassion, and that he's not as indifferent to Yelena and what happens to her as he tries to let on. Still, Valek continues to appear as primarily the elite assassin through most of the book, and it's only toward the end that we really get to see behind his outward demeanor to the man he really is and get to learn why he is the way he is and what motivates him. And surprisingly, when it comes right down to it, Valek seems to be somewhat less tenacious than you might expect, and certainly less tenacious than Yelena.

Overall, this is a truly engaging story set in a world that invites further exploration. The characters come alive and pull you into their tale, involving you in their lives and make you ache for them and rejoice for them in turn. Most will find it difficult to remain indifferent to them at any rate I would think. Highly recommended for anyone who loves fantasy set in a rich world full of magic and political intrigue, with a touch of romance thrown in for extra spice.

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