by Maria V. Snyder
Published on March 1, 2007 by Mira
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
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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...
Sometimes a book leaves a lasting impression and sometimes… it’s just there on the shelf. Poison Study fell into the latter group for me. I read a lot of YA fantasy so when a book isn’t a standout, it gets lost in the shuffle and unfortunately, despite all the raving reviews, this one just wasn’t anything extraordinary.
Yelena is given the choice: death by hanging or be trained as the next food taster. Both have the same ultimate fate but she chooses to extend her life a bit longer. Her training begins under the tutelage of Valek, the Commander’s man, but soon they uncover a plot far more dangerous than either ever expected.
Sounds interesting, right?
I thought so. I’ve never seen a story about a food taster so it caught my eye. The story moved at a decent pace, a bit slow at times for my liking but otherwise alright. The writing is simplistic and clean – again, nothing special but not necessarily bad either. And the plot, well, it just happened. Poison Study is an easy read and while the writing style may be suited for readers moving from middle grade to young adult books, the content is definitely young adult and features a few themes that are not suitable for a younger audience.
Yelena has a past full of violence and abuse, with themes of rape, that are explicitly explained here and there throughout the book as her backstory comes out. They are written in such a way that may be triggering to some so please be aware of this prior to reading this book.
The world was not as fleshed out as I had hoped for in a fantasy. There are a lot of elements, like how the land is lorded over by the Commander and it seems to have helped equal out the role of men and women in society, but outside of seeing a couple women fight, this is only mentioned. But I don’t know anything else about the world. How does the magic work, for example. It becomes a reoccurring plot point but I never understood it to care. That was my general mentality through most of the world-building, to be honest.
As far as characters go, Yelena was alright. I wasn’t on the edge of my seat to see what happens to her next because the plot felt a tad predictable but I certainly didn’t dislike her. She was, like the rest of this book, average. Valek showed promise until the romance entered the scene and suddenly he had a split personality and I wasn’t a fan. To be honest, I just didn’t like the romance period. I think if it had been drawn out as the plot was moving toward, then fully realized in the next book, I wouldn’t have minded, but I had serious insta-love vibes with it all rushed at the end.
Honestly, my favorite characters weren’t even the protagonists. At one point, Yelena wants to learn to fight and enlists the help of Janco and Ari. These two were like the ultimate fighting team, one compensating for the other’s weaknesses. Plus, their dynamic was so contagious. I loved that they were both lighthearted but also deadly serious when it came to their friends. Sure, Yelena had certain traits I look for in a heroine like her strong will and independence, but these two held my attention and were in all my favorite scenes.
And…well, there’s nothing more to really say about the characters. Or the story. Despite the initial originality of the idea the plot soon became predictable and less captivating, at least for someone like me who primarily reads fantasy. I would recommend this to fans of the genre but I wouldn’t put a lot of pressure on blasting through it. More for when you don’t have much else to read and want something quick and easy.