# of pages: 409 (pb)
Recommended for: Upper HS & Beyond
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....
Finally I can add my name to the long list of YA bloggers who have read and reviewed Poison Study, which is one of the few high fantasy novels in the genre. It definitely came highly recommended, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it.
For the most part, I really enjoyed this first book in the Study trilogy. I'm a big fan of high fantasy, although this book really seemed to push the envelope as far as a "high fantasy" label is concerned. For one thing, I was never able to figure out what time-period Snyder's world took place in - the country of Ixia seemed like a conglomeration of a medieval setting and a Cold War-era setting. I tend to favor more traditional-style fantasies (and some of the technologies in here seemed anachronistic, even if the storyworld is ultimately made up), but the further I delved into the story, the more I warmed up to Snyder's world. Ixia and its military divisions certainly was interesting, but the Commander reminded me of a Soviet Premier, and the world Yelena lived in reminded me of a medieval/1960s Communist society (which, I guess, would make Valek a KGB member).
I absolutely commend Snyder on creating likable, well-rounded characters all across the board. Every character in Poison Study has a purpose and a secret motivation. And out of all the many female leads I've read since I dived into YA fiction two years ago, Yelena stands out as one of my favorites. Why? Because she's not a perfect, kick-ass, take-no-prisoners type of character. She begins the novel as an extremely broken and desperate girl incapable of defending herself. Her change is slow and gradual, and that makes her more cheer-worthy. Like I said, the supporting characters - particularly Janko and Ari - were entertaining and brought a certain spunk to the story. On the subject of everybody's main character (it seems), Valek, I'm somewhat divided. On one hand, he was 100% entertaining in every one of his scenes, but on the other hand... I'm not really sure that there's anything particularly special about him. There's a lot that's special about Yelena, but Valek seems like YA's stereotypical "hunk with spunk" character. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but...it does get a bit old. You know that they're going to end up together eventually. What I never appreciate is when a story's love interest tries - at any time - to cause physical harm to the person he ends up "falling in love" with. I mean, seriously? For most of the story's duration, Valek gives off the impression of being ambivalent to Yelena's safety or well-being. And call me old-fashioned, but that just doesn't say "sexy" to me.
The premise of Poison Study seemed riveting to me: food testing, poisons, political intrigue...oh my. The only thing is, there wasn't a whole lot of poison study...the studying of poisons. I was under the impression that most of the book would be spent on Yelena learning the tools of her trade, but she was trained and ready to go in just under 100 pages. The rest of the novel focused on spy stuff and the aforementioned political intrigue. I guess that stuff just isn't for me.
One thing I didn't really care for was the inclusion of magic in the story. It may seem like a strange complaint for a fantasy novel, but I just felt like adding magic into the mix made the story seem too "busy." There was enough plot going on to keep Yelena busy without adding magic, which seemed too convenient and was never explained efficiently. I know that stuff will be explored more in the sequel - Magic Study - but I'm not interested enough to pursue it. And I guess that's the only real complaint I have with this otherwise stellar novel. Poison Study started out just riveting, but the last half was just "meh" for me. The plot got more complicated, but in a muddled, overly dramatic sort of way, and I'm sorry to say that I ended up rightly guessing 1) who the bad guy was, 2) the Criollo "mystery" and 3) how the novel would end. And some things were just downright weird. The thing with the Commander...I cannot comprehend in what universe that particular plot revelation would go over well. It was so out of place with a fantasy novel and serves as an example of what happens when an author abandons all reason and goes for shock factor.
So...Poison Study was a fun novel and I'm glad I read it. But I don't feel drawn to any of the sequels, especially since I've seen so many reviews that say that the series goes downhill. I agree that it's pretty mature for the YA*** category, so I'd suggest this book to older high school readers only.
**While Poison Study was not initially meant to be a Young Adult book (the main character, Yelena, is 19 and Valek is in his 30s), it seems to be marketed as one. I do want to make the point that I know Poison Study isn't an actual YA book, but that it is often grouped into YA lit for some reason