I recommended this to one of my book clubs for purely selfish reasons. A few different bloggers kept raving about this series over the past year on their blogs. It came up again and again– I knew I just had to check it out, but I didn’t want to read it in a vacuum. I was nervous this debut novel wouldn’t do anything for me. With such passionate followers for the series in the blogosphere, I wanted friends to help me see the light and appreciate it as much as my blogger friends have. I found I didn’t need the reinforcement. Instead, I found a well-designed, complex, and unique fantasy tale.
When we are introduced to our protagonist, Yelena is being presented to Commander Valek, head of the King’s Guard, on her execution day. After languishing in prison for one year for killing her benefactor’s son, she is presented with a choice by the Commander: Execution, or become the King’s new food taster. This job is not without risk. Yelena will be trained to detect all the potential poisons which could be in food, tested regularly, and must report for duty each day to get the antidote for the poison in her system. Between the two fates, Yelena chooses the dangerous life.
Poisoned, purused, and living with a psychopath. Not what I would consider the good life.
From the beginning, I was certainly interested in Yelena’s story. This is a unique premise for YA fantasy! It’s been a while since I’ve opened a book and been refreshingly surprised as such. But it’s Yelena’s character which really captivated me. An impressively realized character, Yelena is constantly reacting to her circumstances in a believable fashion. She is flawed, damaged, and uncertain who to trust. She is young, barely 19, and her lack of worldliness shows. But as she grows and develops in this story, the reader grows and develops with her. All of Yelena’s choices, which aren’t all stellar brilliant ones, are choices I can imagine at 19-year-old making. She is a wonderful character.
I did what any good rat would do. I bit down on the guard’s hand until I tasted blood.
Yelena isn’t the only character I fell in love with! In particular, Janco and Ari, two soldiers who befriend Yelena, are wonderful. It’s refreshing for a female fantasy protagonist to have non-romantic, close, male friends. In fact, Janco and Ari act more like Yelena’s older brothers and protectors than anything else. They showed respect to her in a way I have never seen secondary characters portray to a non-family member protagonist before. Plus, they provided amazing (and needed!) humor. Their goofy interactions are subtle and heartwarming. Read this series for Janco and Ari at least.
Seiges weathered, fight together, friends forever.
As this was Snyder’s debut novel, I struggled with a few things related to her writing style. First, the pacing felt strange. I don’t feel like a storytelling rhythm was truly developed. Some moments came out of nowhere, some passed without incident, sometimes we would elaborate on one topic for far too long. In fact, I felt like we were hit over the head repeatedly with the criollo storyline in a way which made me not care at all about how it resolved. Yet, Snyder had some throwaway lines which really provided depth to the story. Quotes such as this created a lush realistic world full of humanity:
We sipped our wine and wandered around the fesival. Sammy materialzed on occasion from the crowd to report some wonder with great delight only to rush off again.
It’s so hard not to fall in love with a world where even the smallest character matters, and so do the little details of their experiences.
Related to the uneven writing, Valek’s character lacked development in the first half of the novel. I didn’t connect with him at all… until Yelena found herself interested in him. At first, I didn’t get it. Why? Because he was two-dimensional until that point. Only after another ~50 pages did I start to see some depth to his character. I think this is in part due to the depth we see from Yelena’s character. Comparing the two in the first half of the book is laughable. I want to think this is because Yelena is so focused on herself we don’t really get to know any of the other characters, but I feel like this is just an oversight in Snyder’s writing.
You have slipped under my skin, invaded by blood, and seized my heart. You have poisoned me.
The romance was also unbelievable in the sense that this book is marked as a YA novel. I felt like there were moments where I was reading an adult novel which had been intentionally censored. It’s obvious that Snyder wanted to put more into the book when it came to the romance (and other darker aspects to the story). I was frustrated and even had to re-read a few small sections to try and interpret what was happening as the text was so clouded and convoluted it was hard to understand. Honestly, if this had been more clear and marked as an adult book, I probably would have enjoyed it more.
Despite these minor flaws in the writing style, I really enjoyed reading Poison Study. When I finished this book, I wasn’t blown away, but I certainly wanted more. A well-fleshed out cast of characters, an intricate plot with hints of a much larger grand design, and unique new ideas fitting into a mold I love and adore? Yes, please! I have high hopes for how Snyder’s writing will develop as the series continues. I cannot wait to read more.
What do you think?
- Have you read Poison Study? What do you think of this book? Of this series?
- What series are you glad you pushed through and continued after reading book 1?
- Can you think of any books which have strong loyalties and friendships between characters? Recommendations welcome!
- What authors have you read whose writing has improved drastically over time?