Maria V. Snyder’s fantasy novel Poison Study has a great hook, that drew my in right away to a book that was a bit one toe in the young adult pool, other-toe-adult. I tend to avoid modern young adult literature, mostly because I’m a masochist and prefer more cumbersome tomes, but sometimes I’m a sucker for a high-concept plot too.
In the military kingdom of Ixia, twenty-year-old Yelena awaits her execution for murder. On her execution day, she learns that she will live to see another day and instead become Commander Ambrose’s food taster. The stipulations of her position are that she must take a poison everyday that will kill her in 24 hours, if she doesn’t also take the antidote each morning. The poison and antidote are administered to her by her boss, Valek, who is essentially a hunky, stealthy ninja-spy.
This setup for the story presented a lot of promise and, for the most part, follows through. There is a lot intrigue and politics throughout the story. Ixia has one Commander, essentially the King, with General’s instated as leaders throughout the nation.
Ambrose has banned magic from the kingdom and when Yelena discovers that she has some kind of power, she must hide it. She must also hide from General Brazell, whose son she murdered. Yelena does a lot of hiding and running and sneaking around.
I liked Yelena as a strong, female character, although at times Snyder goes a little overboard with making her versatile. For instance, Yelena is a hobbyist acrobat, which seems forced into the story to forward some aspects of the plot, but it’s unnecessary. She’s also really good at climbing trees and develops fighting skills. All these things are cool, but all her “things” kind of crowd the story.
Toward the end of the story a love plot develops between Yelena and Valek. This was pretty predictable, although I think it was meant to be sold as an organically built relationship. It sort of came off like they were frienemies who fell in love at the end. It felt a bit forced. Unfortunately the two are not fated to be together long, which sort of makes my wonder why this sub-plot was necessary at all.
Overall, this novel has a lot going on. The premise and process of Yelena’s recruitment as food taster is probably the strongest aspect of the novel. The kingdom as a military state is pretty interesting as well. The book paces well and moves forward smoothly although there’s not a ton of depth. If you’re looking for a light, easy read, then I would recommend it.