Poison Study

October 13, 2017
Poison Study Book Cover Poison Study
Study, #1
Maria V. Snyder
March 1st 2007
October 1st, 2005

Choose: A quick death…Or slow poison...

About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She'll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace—and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.

And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly's Dust—and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison.

As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can't control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren't so clear...

(via Goodreads)


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 StudyWhen 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?


  • Ann Marie October 13, 2017 at 2:10 pm

    This sounds very interesting! Love the premise but I’m not one for romance so I’m not sure… Is it on the sappy and flowery side? Or more realistic?

    • Jackie B October 15, 2017 at 3:31 pm

      The romance? It’s a weird combination of the two. There are definitely flowery moments, but I wouldn’t say it’s the majority. Basically, once our two protagonists realize that they both love each other we have some sappy moments. But it’s fairly realistic up until that point. C’est la vie. After all, this was reconstituted into YA…

  • KrystiYAandWine October 13, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    It’s so funny that you posted this today, because I was just checking this book out yesterday on Goodreads! I do want to read it, especially after reading your wonderful review!

    I actually think a lot of YA books read like adult books. I think there are a lot of books being edited to be YA, but they feel more adult. I see it a lot in YA fantasy novels in particular. It doesn’t really bother me honestly, it’s just something I’ve noticed.

    • Jackie B October 15, 2017 at 3:36 pm

      Hey! What a complete coincidence! I’m glad you’re interested; my friends who have kept reading say that the trilogy is really good and worthwhile.

      I’m glad that I’m not the only one who see this Adult to YA trend! I wonder if authors write books for adult audiences and then editors/publishers ask them to be edited for a different audience? For example, I know Tamora Pierce’s The Song of the Lioness quartet was edited to be YA for an original adult book. Why? Because the publisher didn’t think adults would buy it. Go figure.

      Now, I have never been bothered by it before… but it way sex is avoided and implied really annoyed me with this book. This was a debut novel, so I have hope things will improve as the series continues.

      • KrystiYAandWine October 18, 2017 at 7:41 pm

        It’s true, and it is an interesting dilemma. I think the problem is that there aren’t as many readers who read books marketed as adult anymore. I know I don’t, and it’s because most adult books just aren’t as much fun to read. The tone is usually more serious, and it just doesn’t offer the same level of escapism. If there was like a “fun adult” genre, then I’d read the crap out of it. There just needs to be a way to better categorize books by tone, and the problem would be solved IMO.

        • Jackie B October 20, 2017 at 6:47 pm

          I actually think that a lot of YA books could easily pass into adult literature if the main characters were in their 30s and there was slightly more sex. Not much more, however!

          I feel like straight-up adult fiction is a highly neglected genre. That said, I think mystery, historical fiction, romance, fantasy, and sci-fi are all well read at adult reading levels. But that could also just be my personal exposure based on my bookish social circle.

          Publishers would have to well market “fun adult” in order to make that break. Otherwise it might end up in the same place poor NA is in…

          • KrystiYAandWine October 21, 2017 at 5:47 pm

            I think a lot of YA characters already read like they’re in their 20s honestly. The author just has to remind us that their teenagers. I do think it would be tough to write a YA fantasy where the characters felt authentically like teenagers. It’s just hard for teenagers to believably be able to have that much power in a society, so they almost inevitably read older.

            Adult fiction is definitely just not as commercial, which I can’t say much about, because I very rarely read it. But it’s definitely a thing, and it’s really interesting.

  • Dani @ Perspective of a Writer October 13, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    Hi Jackie! Lovely review! I know exactly what you mean about it not reading like a YA but also not an adult book either… Actually I thought it was adult for a long time… I loved the premise and the magic a lot in this book… I thought it ended well and I liked that we only became aware of Valek as a love interest because Yelena does… This is before I wrote reviews and so I don’t have a review to rely on but i read all three books? Or the first 3 and was quite surprised by the HUGE diversity… it came before its time! (Or I may be remembering wrong and it came in book 2? At least I didn’t spoil it!?) I really loved Janco and Ari too. Are you going to continue the series? It gets really different after this! <3 Dani

    • Jackie B October 15, 2017 at 3:45 pm

      !! It makes me so happy you’ve read this! I don’t often read newly published or on-trend books, so it’s rare someone says, “Oh, hey! I’ve read this!” when they read my reviews. Happy happy happy~

      It it wasn’t for some of the obvious intentional censorship of sexuality, I would definitely consider this adult. It’s really close on that line for me. I wonder if the later books lean more adult?

      There is some diversity in this book, but not a *whole lot*. Are we talking about the Commander, here? There is probably a lot more as Yelena leaves the capital city. This is the first in a trilogy which is part of a larger series containing 6 books and 3 novellas. I don’t know if I will read them all, but I definitely want to continue this trilogy. If only for Ari and Janco! They are adorable.

      How many of these books have you read?

      • Dani @ Perspective of a Writer October 15, 2017 at 5:15 pm

        I agree about the excitement I feel upon learning someone has read a book I’m reviewing!

        The diversity is the commander and for the time the book came out I feel like it was unusual. I actually don’t remember more diversity or much of Ari or Janco… I read the 3-book trilogy and while parts of the magic were cool I didn’t like the 3rd book near as much as the first one!

        • Jackie B October 17, 2017 at 5:44 pm

          Yes, I completely agree with you that the diversity of the Commander is a huge deal. In all honesty, I think it’s still something we don’t see a lot in literature! (Look at us, being so cryptic!) — I want to keep reading if only to figure out what’s going on with the Commander’s story line.

  • Grab the Lapels October 14, 2017 at 10:55 am

    I’m surprised you felt you needed buddies to read this book because you’re right: the plot is definitely unique. It’s not a quest fantasy. It’s not a save-our-very-world fantasy. It sounds cool, Jackie! Thanks for this review. Will there be more books?

    • Jackie B October 15, 2017 at 3:48 pm

      I wanted buddies to read this book with me just because I was afraid I’d go into it all jaded and not find anything redeeming about it. I tend to more of than not dislike the books my blogger friends rave the most about. Or, well, I used to. I think I was just following the wrong bloggers at the time? The point is, I ended up liking this book more than I expected, and I think being able to talk through it with other people helped me appreciate it more.

      Nope! Not very save-the-world/prophetic fantasy. Something unique and character-centered, which is TOTALLY my jam. I’ll definitely be continuing the trilogy, even if I won’t read all of the Chronicles of Ixia series (6 books from two separate trilogies; 3 novellas). I want to see if these more adult themes continue. 😉

      • Grab the Lapels October 15, 2017 at 9:47 pm

        My husband and I got into a thoughtful conversation about your review. I was arguing why it is unique, and he was arguing it’s just like a D&D game plot. I said nope (although I’ve never played D&D) because his claim is that there’s always scalawags trying to getting into a castle and poison the king. I said YAH, but this is a book about somoene inside the castle aready. Etc. etc. 😀

        • Jackie B October 17, 2017 at 5:49 pm

          This makes me so happy. Thank you for sharing your story/debate! I’m with you– I think it’s unique, because it’s not often it’s [spoilers!] mind control candy which is slowly poisoning the mind of the “king” and allowing him to turn into Trump. I mean. This is certainly unique.

          Also, none of my friends have poisoned the King in their DnD campaigns to my knowledge. Tell your husband to find a more creative Dungeonmaster. 😉

          • Grab the Lapels October 18, 2017 at 2:20 pm

            His DM was a boring, selfish blog of a human.

            • Jackie B October 20, 2017 at 12:26 pm

              Ew. That’s the worst. Why do we allow ourselves to spend time with people like that?

              • Grab the Lapels October 20, 2017 at 9:49 pm

                I meant blob, not blog. And I’m not sure. My husband attracts terrible friends.

              • Jackie B October 21, 2017 at 5:05 pm

                XD I more-or-less knew what you meant.

                That’s a shame. I hope that he can find better ones in the future! At least ones who are supportive and you also enjoy spending time with.

  • Krysta October 14, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    This has been on my TBR list for a long time. Maybe I should move it up!

    • Jackie B October 16, 2017 at 9:29 pm

      It was a lot of fun; I definitely recommend it. And I have high hopes for the future books in this series!

  • Topaz October 16, 2017 at 6:31 am

    Ah, I too have read so many wonderful reviews of this book — I’m almost a bit worried I’ll end up hating it for the simple reason that everyone else adored it, but I rather love your idea of reading it alongside a group of friends who might convince me otherwise, haha! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, friend. I’m so glad you enjoyed this one despite your misgivings — here’s hoping the next books in the series also live up to the hype, & perhaps improve along with Snyder’s writing skill <3

    Topaz (Six Impossible Things)

    • Jackie B October 17, 2017 at 6:20 pm

      EXACTLY! It was so nice to have a collection of people to discuss with me. I also made certain this was a group of people who would err on the gushy-lovey side of this book, rather than more of my grimdark friends. That was important for my enjoyment of this book as well. Plus, we had some strangely deep conversations about the content! I wasn’t expecting that.

      I hope that when you get to Poison Study you enjoy it even more than I did. 😉

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Topaz! You are most welcome here.

  • Anna @MyBookishDream October 16, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    I have heard good things about this series and it does sound very unique, especially when it comes to YA fantasy. It’s too bad that you didn’t completely love it, but hopefully the series will improve as you continue reading it! 😀 I might pick this one up, since it does sound interesting and dark – which is something that I really enjoy when it comes to fantasy. Great review Jackie! 🙂

    • Jackie B October 16, 2017 at 10:24 pm

      I have high hopes that the writing will improve. The was Snyder’s debut novel, after all. Often, I find that the writing style will improve drastically after a first novel– it’s like suddenly being able to focus 100% on a thing helps you improve it! 😉

      It is definitely a bit darker– and also quite forward thinking! I would love to hear what you think of it someday. Thank you for stopping by!

  • Nicola @ Thoughts on Fantasy October 17, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    That’s interesting you felt like you were reading an adult book that had been censored, because when you referred YA in the first part of your review my instinctual response was “is this really YA?” because it didn’t feel like YA to me when I read it… it felt more adult and dark. And yet now you mention it, it did hold back a lot, and felt like a young adult book in other parts. It would be really interesting to know what it would have been like if the author had written it purely for an adult audience.

    I also found this book really unique and refreshing (I LOVED the premise), though I did have some problems with it similar to yours. It felt like a really good book that could have been amazing with some changes/edits. I still really enjoyed it though.

    • Jackie B October 17, 2017 at 6:19 pm

      I’m so glad that you also read this book! It’s always fun to chat with someone who knows the content.

      Yes– it’s certainly an exciting and unique premise. Did you continue to read the series, Nicola? If so, I’m curious to know what you think; if the things we both felt were a bit off for our tastes improved over time.

      • Nicola @ Thoughts on Fantasy October 18, 2017 at 3:45 am

        Yes I like hearing what someone else who read it thought of it – that’s why I really enjoyed reading your review! I didn’t continue the series, so unfortunately can’t say how the sequels compare. I was considering it, but the ending felt a bit strange to me, and I was also worried that without that great initial poison-taster premise there might not be enough to keep it interesting/unique. A friend with similar tastes to me read it all the way through – his rating for each remained the same and he didn’t suggest it had changed or that things he had issues with had improved… but I can’t speak from personal experience. So if you continue I will be curious to see what your opinion on the sequels is!

  • Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity October 24, 2017 at 8:08 pm

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this book, Jackie! It is absolutely one of my all time favourites and I try to convince people to read it all the time, haha. It’s been quite a while since I’ve read it so I really want to re-read it soon. Especially since I haven’t picked up the last book in the series (did you know it was originally a trilogy but extended to six books years later?).

    I find it interesting that you felt it should have been marketed as an adult novel. Because… it actually is. The author never wrote it as YA – it was the publisher/s who decided to take that marketing route. It has YA crossover and appeal but it is definitely an adult novel. Maybe going into the subsequent books this little bit of info will help your enjoyment!

    I really hope you like the rest of the books, Jackie 😀

    • Jackie B October 27, 2017 at 10:38 am

      !! I KNEW IT! Thank you so much for pointing out this is ACTUALLY an adult novel. I am fascinated that marketing could actually be the deciding factor in genre. I can understand the crossover concepts and appeal– but I wonder if this possibly damaged adult sales of this book? I am totally intrigued. And yes, I think that will definitely reshape my thoughts going into the next book. It’s amazing how unconscious bias can affect our reading.

      I’m so glad that this is one of your all time favorite series. I did read that the series was extended into two trilogies loosely tied together, plus there are three novellas bringing the “complete” series to 9 whole books! I am definitely curious, and I’ll keep reading.

      Do you have a favorite book in this series?

  • Evelina @ AvalinahsBooks October 29, 2017 at 11:11 am

    I have a friend (online, obvs) who is a beta reader for this author. But I’ve never read this… Just my typical YA aversion, I guess 😀 or my fantasy aversion, maybe?

    I’m sorry I can’t come up with brilliant questions like you do when you comment on my blog 😀 must be something to do with all of those book clubs of yours 😀 but I’m more curious about the book now that you’ve liked it. Although there’s still that fantasy aversion I have. Particularly the court-fantasy aversion. I’m fine with some other types of fantasy, but just not… Queens, commanders and whatnot.

    • Jackie B November 5, 2017 at 4:48 pm

      I didn’t realize you had a YA aversion! That makes so much more sense. I *did* know about your fantasy adversion, however. Are there stories here? Bad encouters with YA or fantasy which made them things you aren’t interested in?

      Haha. You are doing just fine! I don’t think I ask particularly brilliant questions- but I do love digging into the reviews a bit more. That’s why I like interacting with you! You are willing to dig deeper with me.

      I like this story because it’s certainly unique. It covers some areas of fantasy I didn’t expect to, and it also took some turns I enjoyed. The writing isn’t *great*, but this is a debut novel. I always give debut novels a pass if the content is strong. I know writing will improve over time. In fact, I hope to find the writing improves as I keep reading her works.

      • Evelina @ AvalinahsBooks November 6, 2017 at 2:44 pm

        Haha 😀 those two are a little connected. A lot of YA will be about courts and fantasy settings. Adult fantasy… is often very dark. And I’m not into the whole medieval knight thing. A lot of fantasy is based around queens and knights. Horses and castles. Meh. Just plain meh. I liked The Fifth Season 🙂 no horses and castles xD it’s more like sci-fi that way. That and Neil Gaiman too. I mostly just don’t dig YA fantasy or high fantasy.

        As for YA… you know back in the day when YA only came up and was discovering itself as a genre? With all those cringy vampires and back when tropes were just there, without being called out? That’s when I first read YA, and thought it was the most immature, tasteless shit ever. It’s still very hard to recondition myself that there is good YA too. I was fed too many tropes 😀 they were bad.

        Also? You might have noticed I was shunned as a teen. I hate reading a lot of YA because it tells a fake story. It tells teens that if you’re an outcast, you will go out in the world, conquer it and it will love you. And maybe you’ll get a prince savior. That is all incredible bullshit. If you’re an outcast, nobody will hand you anything when you grow up. You won’t save the world. You’ll just be an adult with a lot of psychological problems. I hate these tropes with a passion because they set teens up for some very bad bruising. It’s just not right.

        Oh, BTW. When you read my Sunday post and see my book haul, and read about that used book store… I totally saw that Rick Riordan book that you reviewed a week or two ago, and didn’t grab it 😀 because of your review. Glad I read it!

        I was having such a crap day, and I’m feeling better merely just having read and replied some of your comments. I totally need that messenger of yours!!

        • Jackie B November 10, 2017 at 12:40 pm

          I feel like The Fifth Season was a strong partnership with both Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I actually didn’t classify it as fantasy until the second book… and even then… If I had to select a single genre for the book, it would be sci-fi.

          Anywho, I don’t like grimdark fantasy, myself. I do like horses and castles and princesses and all that… but mostly I like magic, magical creatures, and adventure. Give me a good dragon adventure story anyway! In particularly, I tend to graviate towards eastern-inspired fantasy. That could be the Middle East, Japan, China– it doesn’t matter. Dragons and magic and zen. So much fun.

          I believe that how you are introduced to a genre can affect your perceptions of it forever. That’s one of the reasons romance novels are so stigmatized; it’s a perpetual cycle! I can totally understand how an introduction to crappy YA might scar you forever. I personally don’t read horror/thriller for that reason– the first few books I read scared me so badly I had nightmares for weeks. Never again.

          Oh girl. I’m so sorry that your childhood was so tramatic when it comes to peer relationships. You are beautiful, wonderful, and totally worth it. <3 <3 <3

          Hm. I haven't reviewed a Riordan book on my blog yet. But that doesn't mean I ahven't read them... 😉

          We'll connect more easily soon. Then we can help build each other up on the reg. 😀

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