Poison Study – by Maria V Snyder
I know, more Maria V Snyder already! After reading Touch of Power a couple of weeks ago I was emphatically reminded of how much I love Snyder’s writing. I couldn’t help re-reading Poison Study, to hang out with Yelena, Valek and the wonder twins again. Here’s how I enjoyed revisiting my old friends:
Yelena is about to be executed. But on the morning of her execution she is offered an extraordinary alternative. She can become the Commander’s new food taster, under the tutelage of his right hand man, the most notorious assassin in the land: Valek. The job no doubt means that Yelena will succumb to poison sooner or later – but she won’t die today.
Soon enough, Yelena is embroiled in the heart of life in the Commander’s castle; spies, assassination attempts, learning to fight, making friends and evading her enemies. All Yelena wants is a chance to run away to Sitia, where she’ll have the chance to be free, and where she will need to learn to control her recently discovered magical abilities before the power flames out and kills her. But fate – and Valek – are unwilling to let her escape so easily.
This story is wonderful, with many concurrent plot lines and competing agendas. The world is layered and authentic. And the characters are absolutely marvellous.
Yelena is hugely resilient. She was educated and cared for in her childhood before being subjected to years of torture, both physical and mental, once she reached the age of 16. When we meet her, she’s at her lowest, barely a shell of her former self. Watching her build herself up into a person again is painful and incredibly rewarding.Valek’s raison d’être is his unflinching loyalty to the Commander, and everything else he is is secondary to his concern for the Commander’s wellbeing – a fact that very gradually starts to change once Yelena enters his life.
Janco and Ari, the ‘wonder twins’, are soldiers who take Yelena under their collective wings, and their mentoring and friendship is one of the main reasons Yelena is able to draw herself up again. Every single character in Snyder’s world is three-dimensional, complicated and a healthy mix of sympathetic and unlikeable. And for me, at least, if the characters are great I’ll follow them almost anywhere.
The love story simmers ever so gently beneath the narrative, and is one of the sweetest I’ve read in years of YA, or in general fiction, for that matter. This is not your clichéd hatred-turning-out-to-be-repressed-attraction, nor is it a sudden-change-in-how-he-sees-her. It’s a love born from a place of mutual distrust that gives way as they get to know each other to respect, admiration and understanding. And it’s the kind of thing you have to read to really appreciate.
My experience in past years with Poison Study is a key reason I didn’t enjoy Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass all that much. Yelena is Celaena Sardothien’s predecessor, and outshines Celaena in every way.
If you haven’t read Poison Study, and especially if you haven’t read any Maria V Snyder at all, please read this book and its sequels (it’s the first in a trilogy).
It retains its place as one of the best young adult fantasy series I’ve ever read.
And if you have readi it, do you think the reviewer doth praise too much? Or do you share my love for Snyder’s amazing trilogy?
Have you read Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass as well? How do you think the two match up?