WHAT’S PLAYING: Rob Thomas “Gasoline”
This is the story of Yelena, a convicted murderess who, on the eve of her execution, is offered a reprieve. She can either hang or become the official food taster for the Commander of Ixia. She’ll eat the best meals, sleep in the palace…and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander. In order to prevent her from escaping, Valek, Chief of Security and master assassin, doses Yelena with Butterfly’s Dust. Only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison. As she adjusts to her new situation, Yelena has to deal with enemies past and present, while searching for a way to escape her dilemma and forge a life on her own terms.
Set in the former kingdom of Ixia, “Poison Study” is an engrossing read, full of intrigue, subterfuge, and poisons. Under the firm, but fair, hand of the Commander, the country has become a militarist society with a strict Code of Behavior. All citizens are required to wear uniforms and work at assigned jobs. Magic and killing – whether accidental, justified, or done in self-defense – are both capital crimes punishable by death. The plot moves quickly with plenty of twists and suspense to keep things interesting. (Though there was one plot twist involving the Commander that seemed to come out of nowhere.) Snyder manages to deliver an enormous amount of information without bogging down the story. I found Yelena’s lessons in food tasting to be particularly well thought out and entertaining.
One thing that I found to be a bit annoying was Yelena’s seemingly superhuman ability to master any and every task put in front of her, from food tasting to fighting. Though much of her feats can be chalked up to intelligence and untapped magical powers, I never quite got the feeling that she “earned” her abilities.
Bottom line: This was an exciting read with an intriguing plot and likeable characters. An impressive debut effort.
Favorite character: The Commander is definitely the most interesting character. Seen through the eyes of Yelena, he is a unique blend of merciless dictator and benign father figure. His strict adherence to the Code of Behavior, along with the secrets he hides beneath his uniform makes him even more intriguing.
What I learned: Plotting is paramount. This book was entertaining for one reason: Snyder plotted the hell out of it. Yes, the characters were cool, the writing solid, and the world building very well done, but it was the plot with all its twists and interwoven storylines that made this novel such a joy to read.