Review of POISON STUDY by Maria V. Snyder (see her website)
Luna, October 2005
Condemned to die for murdering the man who tortured and raped her, Yelena is offered a reprieve--of sorts. Instead of being executed, she's to be the new food-taster for the Commander of the nation of Ixia. Considering the track record of previous tasters, the difference between being executed and being a taster is a matter of time, but Yelena grabs what time she can. Escape is not an option--unless she gets a daily antidote to a poison she's already gotten, she'll die a horrible death. Together with spymaster Valek, Yelena uncovers hints that a conspiracy against Ixia's commander is under way--but she can't reveal too much. If Valek learns that Yelena is also one of the forbidden magicians, the magicians who ruled Ixia until overthrown in the Commander's revolution, her execution will be back on schedule.
The longer she spends with Valek, the more Yelena is forced to confront the fact that she's falling in love with him.
Fortunately, Yelena soon makes friends, including a group of soldiers who teach her self-defense and bo-work (bo is misspelled bow throughout the text, but we'll credit this to an editor, not to brown-belt author Maria V. Snyder). Together with her growing magical talent, Yelena becomes a threat to Ixia's enemies--who move to eliminate her before she learns too much.
With the strong relationship between Valek and Yelana, POISON STUDY certainly reads like a romance to me, so I'm classifying it in this category. Fans of light fantasy (along the Andre Norton later Witch World book lines) may also want to check this one out.
POISON STUDY is an engaging story and a welcome first novel. I would have liked to see a bit more by way of plot twists, and I thought that Snyder didn't always manage the balance between romance and fantasy very well (e.g., the scene where Yelena envisioned Valek's uniform pooled around his ankles seemed out of place to me), but the world-building and the martial arts felt authentic and added to the enjoyment. Yelana is an interesting character, with the mysterious Valek the book's real hero.
Ready to buy? Click the 'buy from Amazon button':
Rather buy it from Barnes and Noble?