I first read this book in my teens. I had tired of dragons and the Jackie Wilson books and stumbled upon a series about magic quite by chance. I read the first book in the trilogy Poison Study and devoured the other two. I didn’t read them again but even when the characters names had faded from my memory, the story remained.
Imagine my excitement finding a tatty copy in the charity shop? I was desperate to read it, to remind myself of a world I had encountered so long before. I remember it as a book about a girl who doesn’t know she has magic, a girl who is offered the choice between her execution and becoming the king’s poison taster. She chooses the latter and finds herself swept up in a coup and palace rivalries with the mysterious assassin training her as the poison taster.
That is the basic premise of the story. I now know that the girl is called Yelena and she is awesome, takes no nonsense, has a smart mouth and more than all of that she is a fighter and a victim who stood up for herself. She is smart, and resourceful and haunted. And she is fantastic. I liked her at least.
The mysterious assassin who offers her an alternative to having her neck stretched is Valek, the Commander’s assassin. The world is a nation under military rule, with military districts run by generals under the Commander. It is authoritarian, equality for all, special privileges for none kind of rule – everyone wears uniforms which identify their rank, and which district they serve in. Some people however, don’t agree with the system, seeking more power than is allotted them.
Yelena was bought up in an orphanage in MD5 and is in prison for the murder of her General and benefactors son, a rather disgusting excuse for a man. She has been in prison for a year when Valek offers her an alternative, even if the MD5 General doesn’t agree that she should live. And while Yelena is trying to stop herself from being killed by MD5 soldiers, she is also fighting against members of the mysterious South, where magic still has a place. She has somehow drawn their attention, but Yelena doesn’t know how.
Magic, mystery, friendships and betrayal – I, of course, loved it, probably as much as my fourteen year old self finding the worn pages in my school library. I love Yelena, I love Irys, I love Valek, I even love the Commander! The fear and the worry that Yelena experiences, the confusion over trying to make friends and work out who to trust, decisions she makes in fear – it all feels realistic! Even when she is talking about magic. I love how romance is such a tertiary plot point it doesn’t really seem important – well, it is because its love and trust and friendship which forms the backbone of the story – but the romance isn’t in your face – it isn’t the guiding principle or talked about in terms of “eyes meeting” or “heart beat faster” or all that gushy stuff. So, in terms of romance, I approve.
There are a pair of guards who are absolutely amazing. I think they were included for comedy affect but who cares! They are brothers-in-arms, dependable, loyal, and sassy. I love them.
The narrative can be quite blunt, it doesn’t sugar coat thing and I love that about this book. It’s almost reflects the utilitarian world that the characters live in. I would probably count this as YA fantasy, but I honestly only count it loosely. It’s hard to explain. It’s great though, and doesn’t feel like some of the YA I’ve been reading recently, probably because the romance isn’t glaringly poking my eyes.
I can’t even explain what it is I love about this book, all I know is that I adored it, and from what I remember of the sequels I enjoyed those too. So, Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, add it to the to-read pile!