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Poison Study

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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...

427 pages, Paperback

First published September 27, 2005

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About the author

Maria V. Snyder

76 books16.9k followers
When Maria V. Snyder was younger, she aspired to be a storm chaser in the American Midwest so she attended Pennsylvania State University and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Meteorology. Much to her chagrin, forecasting the weather wasn’t in her skill set so she spent a number of years as an environmental meteorologist, which is not exciting...at all. Bored at work and needing a creative outlet, she started writing fantasy and science fiction stories. Over twenty novels and numerous short stories later, Maria’s learned a thing or three about writing. She’s been on the New York Times bestseller list, won a dozen awards, and has earned her Masters of Arts degree in Writing from Seton Hill University, where she is now a faculty member. Her favorite color is red. She loves dogs, but is allergic, instead she has a big black tom cat named…Kitty (apparently naming cats isn’t in her skill set either). Maria also has a husband and two children who are an inspiration for her writing when they aren't being a distraction. Note: She mentions her cat before her family.

When she's not writing she's either playing volleyball, traveling, or taking pictures. Being a writer, though is a ton of fun. Where else can you take fencing lessons, learn how to ride a horse, study marital arts, learn how to pick a lock, take glass blowing classes and attend Astronomy Camp and call it research? Maria will be the first one to tell you it's not working as a meteorologist.

Readers are welcome to check out her website for book excerpts, free short stories, maps, blog, and her schedule at http://www.MariaVSnyder.com.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 13,311 reviews
Profile Image for Sasha Alsberg.
Author 8 books66.6k followers
October 23, 2015
SO SO SO SO GOOD! Yelena was amazing and had such great character development in the story. The romance took the back seat in the book and instead focused a lot about the conflict at hand. So good and Valek....SWOON!!
I just got the second book in the trilogy Magic Study and cannot wait to read it!
I'll be talking about Poison Study in my March Wrap Up video!
Profile Image for Katerina.
422 reviews16.9k followers
April 25, 2018
“Poisoned, pursued and living with a psychopath. Not what I would consider the good life. Death has its perks.”

Well living with a psychopath Valek is a perk in my humble opinion.

The story
Yelena is waiting to be executed and she's made peace with that, but then the Commander's right hand (who also happens to be an assassin) approaches her with an offer; she can either be executed as planned or she can become the Commander's new food taster. Yelena naturally picks the latest and she's introduced into a world of politics, schemings and poisons, and she eventually has to face her worst nightmares and find the strength to confront them.
“Trusting is hard. Knowing who to trust, even harder.”

One of the reasons I started reading Poison Study (besides the gorgeous cover and the premise) was the assumption that it resembles Throne of Glass, which I adore. And it's true, both of them are about an incarcerated girl who is given a second chance if she endures a dangerous challenge, but that's where the resemblances end. Poison Study is different. Unique. Marvelous.

Poisons, magic, deception, spies, secrets, assassins, conspiracies, military action, heinous acts and acts of kindness, great main and secondary characters , Maria V. Snyder gives you everything. Yelena is an extremely likable MC, from a scared girl depending on others she evolves into a strong woman who embraces her weakness and turns it into courage. And my precious Valek plays an important part in this transformation.
“But you’ve slipped under my skin, invaded my blood and seized my heart.”

Valek contemplated to kill Yelena twice, he was rude and manipulative and he put his duty above everything else. But yet Yelena found a place in his black heart and held it with a strong grip. Their chemistry was palpable and their love was building slowly and steadily. One of the finest OTPs, ladies and gentlemen!

You haven't read Poison Study yet? Santa will get you no present this year.
December 5, 2013
I finished this book on Friday, and I took all weekend to decide what I wanted to say in my review. Let me start by saying that Poison Study is written in a very elemental fashion. If you are a reader who likes flowery, descriptive writing, this might throw you for a loop initially. The story is told inelaborately, and there is no hesitation in describing the ugliness of Yelena's situation. When I met Yelena, she was taken out of her prison cell, where she had languished for the better part of a year, and was prepared to meet the executioner. I can't say I've read too many books that started this way. I was hooked right then and there. Instead of seeing Yelena get executed, she is taken to the office of the man who will cause a profound change in her life, Valek. Yelena was offered the opportunity to escape a quick execution. She could undertake the training as a food taster, which was not without risk, and if she survived, she would spend her life risking death on a regular basis. Typically the life of a food taster is very short. But, it's a lot longer than instant death. Yelena thought things through and decided she'd rather take her chances as a food taster.

From the beginning, I was interested in Yelena's story. She was a young woman who had ended up in a very dire situation (not all of her making), but was willing to own up to the life she'd taken. She never made excuses for her actions, although the reasons were valid. With the murder she committed, she felt as though her soul had been lost. And yet, some part of her refused to give up.

This book brings to mind the aphorism that "Justice is Blind." More and more I wonder if justice really should be blind. Those who enforce the law make their verdicts on cases based on the evidence presented. Yet, they don't always consider the underlying reasons why a person commits a crime. In the eyes of an omniscient diety, this makes perfect sense, because that Supreme Being sees all things. But, humans don't have that all-seeing perception. Is it fair for a woman to be sentenced to death for trying to protect herself and her loved ones, for killing a man who brutally tortured and raped her? According to the strict laws of Ixia, murder outside of war is considered a capital offense. From the moment that Yelena took the life of the son of General Brazell, her life was forfeit.

I believe in second chances. I just do. I know that we all fall and fail, and while I think some crimes are extremely heinous, I cannot let go of my belief that everyone deserves the right to make amends. I was happy that Valek gave Yelena the opportunity to live. Yet, Yelena will face more trials with her second chance. And she is put in a position to save the Commander who she serves as food-taster, and to prevent Ixia from falling prey to a conspiracy that involves key members of the government.

Poison Study was a very readable, fascinating, enjoyable adventure. I loved seeing Yelena come into her own. It was clear that she'd always been a strong person, and her strength of character and will is what allowed herself to emerge from the fires that had potential to destroy her. Instead, she was honed by those fires and made stronger.

I'm not very good at political stuff. I have my own way of looking at things, and it makes my interpretation of political stances, parties, affiliations, and governmental structures very against type. I think it was interesting to see the inner workings of the system that the Commander had set up through Yelena's eyes. In many ways, going from a monarchy to what appeared to be a dictatorship was an improvement. However, there were many restrictions imposed on the people as a result of that same government. Opportunities were open that weren't before. The government was set up to encourage fairness and to discourage waste. The downside was, anytime you have people in a system, it's going to be flawed, because people are flawed. So this system was not perfect. Through Yelena's eyes, I was able to see this all playing out.

I started this review by saying that this book was written with a simple use of language. I found that this narrative style was a bit deceptive. You might think this story is basic on first glance, but that's far from the truth. There is a lot going on here. I liked that Ms. Snyder left it up to the reader to interpret the events through her own eyes. I like how she slowly reveals aspects of the characters until the fullest picture comes to mind. That was the best way to write about a character like Valek. When he comes on the scene, he doesn't seem that grand. He seems like a puppet in the political structure of Ixia. But, if I had continued to see him that way, I would have been missing out on a lot. You see, Valek is not the puppet. He's the puppetmaster. He is an extremely intelligent and cunning spymaster, a swordsman without equal, and a deadly assassin. He's so matter-of-fact and without flare, so you don't see him truly unless you look deeper. He holds his allegiance to Commander Ambrose very sacredly, but that doesn't mean he doesn't always agree with the rules that the Commander has instituted. That he cannot see justice done in his own way. Through Yelena's eyes, we see how the perception of Valek expands to show who and what he really is. I fell in love with him as Yelena did.

I'm a romantic at heart, and I will always be. I loved the burgeoning relationship between Yelena and Valek. How they slowly worked their way into each others' hearts, through proximity and the fact that they saw something in each other that resulted in an irresistible draw to each other. It's clear from the beginning, through the eyes of others around Yelena and Valek, and through Valek's actions, that he cherishes Yelena. It's a subtle but at the same time, pretty obvious thing. In my opinion, it took a lot of writing skill to convey this to the reader, and Ms. Snyder did an excellent job.

Poison Study was a grand adventure in the style of the classic adventure novels. The fight scenes are well-written, and the danger elements are exciting and involving. Being Yelena is a dangerous proposition, because Brazell is determined to see her dead for killing his son, and continually uses underhanded methods to do it. Also because she lives in dangerous times, and in an environment fraught with intrigue. I liked that Valek saved Yelena several times, because it showed the intensity of his regard for her, but I also liked that many other times, Yelena was able to save herself through her intelligence, quick-thinking, and through her developing skills at self-defense. Yelena views herself as a small person in the scheme of things, but she had an important role in preventing a very ugly conspiracy from coming to fruition. She effects change by doing what she feels is right, and because of that, she gains the respect of those who had previously viewed her as a cold-blooded murderess. Her actions don't occur in a vacuum, and they often result in helping/protecting others in various ways.

The fantastic elements are subtle but integral. I liked how Yelena's magic was instrinsic to her, a part of her that was dormant, emerging when she needs it. I loved seeing her become a capable and deadly fighter. She hates the idea of killing, but killing is necessary in the dangerous world she lives in. She had to come to realize this, or she couldn't love Valek, a man who kills for a living, and must do it without letting remorse weigh him down.

Poison Study was a book that I thoroughly enjoyed. Like many unexpected favorites, it snuck in there on me. But when I finished this book, I had a big smile on my face.
Profile Image for Jo.
268 reviews945 followers
October 4, 2011
"It's a dirty way to fight, but I'm late for lunch."

Initial Final Page Thoughts.
I think I’m broken… why didn’t I love this one?

High Points.
The premise. Poisons. The setting. The baddies. The magic. Valek. Close combat. Acrobatics. Fire festivals. Valek without his shirt on. Ari. Janco. Maren. Tree climbing. Chocolate. Delicious food. Kick ass ladies. Secret Valek without his shirt…in a pile of hay.

Low Points.
The narration. I know Yelena is supposed to be educated but I found it difficult to believe she would casually throw words like “mucilaginous” into conversation… I don’t know. The found the dialogue jarring and inconsistent. One minute we’d be all britches and monarchy and then the next we’d be in “funks”.
Yelena… we’re not in AFP waters, not at all. But… well meh… see heroine.
Bad haircuts. Come on… there’s only so much my imagination can handle. Black, shoulder length ringlets? A shaved head… except the fringe? NOOOOO.

Oh Yelena, what am I going to do with you? I’m not sure what it was… because on paper you are brilliant. You have a past and you don’t go on and on about it. You can hold your own in a world run by men. You show restraint by not immediately disrobing when Valek glides into the room. You have a strong stomach. You can do acrobatics. You get your Katniss on while you’re scrambling around in trees.
But I just didn’t connect. I’m sorry. I wanted to be best friends and I thought we would be.
Maybe it’s just me.
And even though I know it didn’t work out between us, I want you to know that I care about your well-being. Which is why I’m suggesting you should go and get yourself checked out because, to my knowledge, girls should not buzz like a bumble bee.

Love Interest.
Now we’re talking.
A cheeky haircut and you would be perfect.
Strong and silent and artistic… oh and yeah, an assassin.
It’s like Ms Snyder read my diary or something.
I was tempted to place you in a ‘Hero’ section, Valek, but I stopped myself because at the moment you are still in the love interest zone.
I would like to have had more interactions between you and Yelena, because there was definitely more room for swooning. Yeah, you had some moments (flutterbies… aww) but other than that I was kind of underwhelmed.

I’m pretty sure the baddies in this were sponsored by Hamlet.
And would definitely be placed in Slytherin if they attended Hogwarts. They already have the uniform.

Theme Tune.
I always find it difficult to find songs for historical fiction… because they never seem to fit with the subject matter.
Poison by The Prodigy.
If you disagree… imagine it sung by an artist such as Agnes Obel or Laura Marling.
If you agree… rave on, my dears, rave on like it’s 1995. As I am doing right now.

Sadness Scale.
5/10. There were some sections that were extremely harrowing and I loved how Snyder dealt with these with subtlety because it really left a lasting impression, especially concerning Yelena’s past.
Sorry for the vagueness… spoilers ‘n’ all.

Recommended For.
People who love historical/fantasy fiction. People who would quite happily munch chocolate all day… even if there was a risk of dying an agonising death. People who wish Laura Marling would cover every Prodigy song.

You can read this review and lots of other stuff on my blog here.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,990 reviews298k followers
March 30, 2012

Poison Study is easily one of the best young adult books I have read this year. So far, the genre has become increasingly disappointing to me and I was beginning to lose faith in novels marketed at older teens. What I really don't understand, though, is why Snyder decided* to make Poison Study a young adult book. In my opinion, even though it was good, the book could have been even better if she'd allowed for Yelena/Valek smut and instead marketed the book to a more adult audience. It's not even as if the subject matter was child-friendly, torture and rape-loving villains aren't exactly what comes to mind when you're writing for a young audience. It could have been sexier, grittier and just all-round better as an adult novel.

As a welcome addition the fantasy genre, I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed the story. Fantasy tends to conjure up unwelcome memories of Tolkien and Pratchett, not to mention the elves, goblins and dwarves that often feature in the genre. Never did it for me, I'm afraid. The only fantasy books that have ever really impressed me are those by J.K. Rowling and Paul Stewart, and they were more focused on characters at least resembling humans for the most part, as was Poison Study.

I have to say that I loved Valek as a character and was pleasantly surprised to see how well the romance between him and Yelena worked. It didn't even remotely occur to me at first that he would be the love interest of the novel because he was seemingly selfish, violent and cruel. And also coldly devoid of any redeeming emotion. The way that turned around, through the humour that came out in him as the novel progressed to the multiple times he risked himself to help Yelena (and yet still didn't make her come across as the damsel in distress), was told really well. The rest of the novel aside, he himself is one of the best parts of any book I've read lately.

What I didn't much care for was the drawn out plot with the Criollo(?), it seemed to take too long to get around to something that wasn't particularly interesting; but don't get me wrong, plenty of other stuff is going on with Yelena overcoming her past trauma and the blooming attraction between her and Valek so that the story never really drags. This is usually the part where I say "So... I will definitely be reading the next book in the series", but I actually think I'm going to leave Magic Study and Fire Study after acquiring advice from Tatiana's review and, strangely, a small lilac-haired old woman at the library.

*EDIT Tatiana has informed me that it wasn't Snyder's idea but her publishers... my apologies, Snyder ;)
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.5k followers
April 27, 2020
this is not the most original story out there, but i still liked it. i think thats why we, as readers, develop tastes and preferences, so we can visit new stories with familiar themes and tropes and still be entertained by them.

the characters are likeable, the world-building is decent, the storyline is easy to follow and fun to discover, and the writing has a nice flow to it. again, nothing unique or spectacular stands out for me to note, but this has all of the components that i am well-acquainted with and love in a story.

overall, i did really enjoy this. especially since my track record with reading early 2000s YA fantasy isnt the best, this was a fun surprise and i definitely intend to continue the series at some point in the near future.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for NickReads.
461 reviews1,196 followers
March 21, 2020
“Trusting is hard. Knowing who to trust, even harder.”

2.5 stars

It's not that I didn't like the book, it was quite greatly written and the story was interesting, yet I couldn't connect to the characters at all. I just didn't care for them a bit.

In my opinion the story had only one peak and it was around the end, which I enjoyed but other than that it was bland and uneventful or filled with minor events.

“Everyone makes choices in life. Some bad, some good. It's called living, and if you want to bow out, then go right ahead. But don't do it halfway. Don't linger in whiner's limbo.”

I would definitely recommend the book to other fantasy lovers, however I doubt that I will continue with the other books.
Profile Image for Jessica ❁ ➳ Silverbow ➳ ❁ .
1,261 reviews8,752 followers
December 29, 2017
12/29/17 - ON SALE for $1.99:


Reviewed by: Rabid Reads

4.5 stars

I've been wanting to reread this series for like two years. No lie.

It's been 6 or 8 years since the last time I read it, and I remembered really liking it, but not much else. But guess what? NEW BOOK! So yeah, just prior to the release of Shadow Study seemed like an excellent time to get my reread on, and guys . . . it was even better than I remembered it.

That. Has. NEVER. Happened.

Yelena, a self-confessed murderer is spared from hanging when the Commander of the military-governed nation she lives in needs a new food taster. The last one died of . . . poisoning. Go figure.

Valek, the head of the Commander's security offers her the position, and when she accepts Yelena discovers that he will also be responsible for her training, BUT . . . his training methods can best be described as . . . trial by fire. I believe he says something like, "if you can survive this, nothing else will accidentally kill you, and you won't be a waste of my valuable time and effort," just before dosing her with the moste potente poison he has available.

Nice guy, that Valek . . .

But Yelena is both stronger and smarter than she appears, and she not only survives the poisoning, but thrives under Valek's tutelage. And if that was all there was, well . . . that would be boring.

But that's not all.

Yelena has secrets. Like the reason why she killed the only son of her benefactor, one of the eight Generals directly under the Commander in rank. A General who is distinctly unhappy about her avoiding the noose.

Yelena is also unsurprisingly world-weary. BUT. Despite her best efforts, she's unable to snuff out the fragile flame of hope that burns inside of her. Hope for a better life. Hope for someone to trust. Hope for something as simple, yet, previously, as unattainable as a friend.

In Poison Study, you grow with Yelena as she grows, begin to trust as she trusts, feel the bitter disappointment of betrayal when she is betrayed, and barely dare to allow yourself to hope as something more than friendship begins to blossom.

Don't ask me with whom, b/c I won't tell you, but it is . . . lovely.

She picks up a few allies along the way as well, and a pair of soldiers in particular, Janco and Ari, are simply fantastic. Ari adopts the role of protective older brother, while Janco fills the prankster brother position exceptionally well, and you feel that in your gut too, b/c Yelena is an orphan.

And all of this is happening within the unfolding mystery that's detailed quite nicely in the blurb, so I won't rehash it.

On the surface, Poison Study probably looks a lot like every other YA fantasy out there, and it admittedly doesn't stray far from the standard and acceptable elements. But Snyder has created a world with characters who make you FEEL what they FEEL, who you want to triumph, and fear for when failure seems imminent. I've never denied being a character-driven reader, and Poison Study is a marvelous example of the kind of book that really, really makes me happy. Highly recommended.

Jessica Signature
Profile Image for ✨ Helena ✨.
378 reviews1,002 followers
September 15, 2022
In my personal opinion...this is what Throne of Glass (published seven years after this) should have been. Poison Study is easily one of the best-written and underrated high fantasy, young adult series that I’ve come across, and I’m so happy that I FINALLY gave this a go, as it’s been collecting dust on my TBR for YEARS. After a while, YA high fantasy tends to become oversaturated with similar storylines, but this was SO ORIGINAL and I LOVED IT. I also enjoyed how character-driven this novel was, rather than emphasising the fantasy aspects (although magic is very much prevalent).

Yelena was a clever and determined young woman, who was given the chance to escape execution, in exchange for taking up the position as the Commander’s food taster, a potentially lethal occupation. She consistently fought over and over again for her own survival, never allowing herself to wallow in self-pity. She took accountability for her actions, even admitting to the crime of murder, and never attempted to conjure up excuses in order to escape the noose. When there were numerous attempts on her life, she went out of her way to learn how to best defend herself, from hand-to-hand combat to knives. When there were instances where she needed to get past locked doors, she endeavoured to learn how to pick locks for herself. She was SO ambitious and resourceful! She never waited for any knight-in-shining-armour to come and save her. She did the saving for herself! ;) Honestly though, I’d like to know how she wasn’t suffering from PTSD, considering her tragic past... We definitely need to see more characters like her in YA literature, who make make decisions based upon their brains, rather than their hearts. Talk about a fierce 19-year old! :D

Valek was also a pleasant surprise. Initially, I was quite indifferent to him because he treated Yelena quite cruelly and poorly (since he saw her as nothing more than a murderer). However, as the plot progressed, I really came to like him. He is a deadly assassin (what a hypocrite, haha) and the Commander’s loyal, right-hand man. Although I will admit that the revelation that he was Yelena’s love interest definitely took me by surprise (so you do not need to worry about instalove!). I loved seeing how he fell in love with Yelena’s loyalty and inner-strength. I think that they make a lovely pair, yet they are also different enough to balance each other out. I can’t wait to see their romance develop over the course of the future books in this series!

Therefore, I will recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys books about fantasy worlds, magic systems, court politics, soldiers, assassins, beautiful writing, and strong character development. If you haven’t gotten to this series, which seems to have been forgotten among the depths of YA high fantasy, you should definitely give this a go as soon as you can! :)
Profile Image for Julie Kagawa.
Author 78 books24.8k followers
June 1, 2009
I loved this book. I loved the heroine; stubborn, tenacious, determined. I loved the world that Snyder created. I loved loved loved the main love interest, Valek. Dark, stoic assassin? Check. Me swooning throughout the whole book because I have a thing for assassins? Check. (Yeah, I know. I need to have my head examined.)

But, the relationship between Yelena and Valek was only part of this wonderful story. The detail put into the poisons was facinating. The entire world was facinating. I literally picked this book up and did not put it down until that evening when I finished it. I'm going to get the next books, Magic Study and Fire Study, as soon as possible. Bravo to Maria Snyder for this wonderful novel.
Profile Image for Letitia.
1,096 reviews86 followers
August 2, 2007
I am torn on reviewing this book. On one hand it had the potential to be the best fantasy novel I have ever read. The world was intriguing, the characters endearing, the plot fascinating. Beyond that, the author managed to explore fascinating themes of mortality, right of choice, overcoming psychological demons, and tests of loyalty. I kept willing the writing to be better than it was. I would really love to see this author mature and develop her skill into something really worthwhile, because her story is definitely unique. Unfortunately her writing is elementary and ofttimes very awkward.
September 14, 2020

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Okay, so this is what THRONE OF GLASS wants to be when it snuggles up in bed at night in its little pink unicorn pajamas. POISON STUDY is a dark romantic fantasy novel with a strong but vulnerable heroine who has overcome incredible personal tragedy and has abilities she cannot quite understand, and a brooding hero who looks great in uniform and is as handsome as he is deadly. As if that in and of itself weren't recipe for total and complete awesomeness, it's also in a deadly world filled with intrigue in which magic is forbidden and a monarchy has been replaced by a fascist, paramilitary regime where generals rule like feudal lords and everyone within those military districts is playing a long con of their own. It's basically every fantasy trope I love mixed together.

Yelena is scheduled to be executed when we meet her for murdering the son of her ruling general. She is spared at the last minute by the chief of intelligence of another district, Valek, who thinks she might be more useful as the general's poison taster. Valek teaches her the art of poisons (hence the title, poison study) while keeping her indentured through sinister means: feeding her a poison to which only he has the antidote.

As the story goes on, we learn more about Yelena's dark back story, and we watch her slowly begin to overcome her trauma as she begins to grow truly talented in her work and make friendships and connections within the district she's working in. But it isn't all walks in the forest and dueling with friends, oh no. There are assassination attempts, plans for overthrowing of the regime, and betrayal upon betrayal and scheme upon scheme, until poor Yelena doesn't know who to trust or whether she might even survive the games she's playing on a board that is far above her level.

Will she rise to it? Or will she fall?

So as a romance, this is a 11/10 on the slow-burn scale but I really liked that, because I like slow-burn if it's done well. Here, it is. It's pretty obvious that Valek, resident Danger Bae, is the love interest just from the way he's introduced and the way that Yelena talks about him. They have a student/master relationship that gradually blossoms into one of mutual respect and then, belatedly, affection. Watching them go from distrusting each other completely to gradually falling for each other is so rewarding. Also, Valek-- oh my God, I burn, I pine, I perish. He might even be worth the poison, I don't know.

As a fantasy novel, I'd say it works just as well as a romance. It's dark and brooding, and it has some excellent plotting. I read this for the first time in college and the twists blew me away then. They blew me away a second time, because reading it ten years later, I actually remembered very little. I think it delivers on creating a world that feels very believable, and I haven't enjoyed watching a heroine struggle against the odds this much since reading about Katniss Everdeen in THE HUNGER GAMES or Rose Hathaway in VAMPIRE ACADEMY, even though I think the people shelving this book as young adult are wrong. While there is nothing in here that would really shock a young person, I don't think, it doesn't feel like a young adult book and the characters are much, much older. Also, both the imprints this was published under-- Harlequin Luna and Harlequin Mira-- are adult imprints.

If you like fantasy novels that teem with tension, heroines who are survivors, and love interests who seem icy and unattainable until they're not (hehe), I think you'll really love POISON STUDY.

5 stars!
Profile Image for Nicole.
749 reviews1,933 followers
November 23, 2020
What do you ask for usually in a young-adult fantasy book?

Relatable and actually smart heroine? ✔✔✔✔✔
A sexy witty love interest who is ALSO an assassin (that's a plus!)? ✔✔✔✔✔✔✔
World building? ✔✔✔✔
An enjoyable story? ✔✔✔✔✔
A good plot—one that doesn’t stray too far off topic and does progress throughout the story? ✔✔✔✔✔
More actions less romance? ✔✔✔✔✔
A well-written book? ✔✔✔✔✔

I can go on all day. It's been a long while since I loved a book this much, from page one till the end.

Yelena was sentenced to death because she has killed someone. She's been in the dungeon for a year now, waiting for execution. But when she's offered a chance to live, she didn't think twice about it and accepted even though she knew the risks. She has to be the Commander's food taster and thus study all kinds of poison with Valek (my heart).

Yet she didn't just kill someone, but one of the generals son who took her under his wing when she was a little. Sounds harsh? Not when the father and the son hide behind manners -in front of the Commander, at least. Therefore he wants his revenge.

Yelena is the caught in the midst of a subtle mayhem of politics, spies, assassins, conspiracies, secrets, treacheries, and magic where she tries her best to survive.

I didn't start Poison Study expecting to be flabbergasted. I was expecting something good but nothing mindblowing. And now all I can think of, why the heck didn't I read this book sooner. I cherished every word of it. Yet, this way no young-adult. Yelena is 19 yo and Valek around 33, it's illogical for this to be shelved as YA. I read that Maria V Snyder didn't write this book as a young-adult but the publishers chose to. While it didn't have any sex scenes, this book included rape and other sexual assaults and form of sadistic violence that we don't find in this genre. I wish this book was written as an adult fantasy only, we would have more smut scenes. I craved those.

Let's start with Yelena, she is far from being your usual young-adult heroine, smart, wise and strong, she tried her best to survive all the hardships. She started to train, to learn useful abilities, and so much more so she can be able to be independent. Her character development was obvious, even if I liked her from the beginning and found it easy to relate to her, she fascinated toward the end. One of the best thing about her, that we didn't hear endless praise of her beauty, she was pretty but unlike other heroines nowadays, not everyone she meets in amazed by her appearance. She also isn't white! Snyder did a decent job in mixing color skins -not that people's outside looks really mattered. I don't think I loved any character because of that in this book because honestly, I don't remember what the secondary characters looked like and it's not the author's fault because she did describe them when Yelena first saw them. And it stopped there. Sometimes authors relentlessly remind us of their characters looks to cover the lack of depth in their personality.

Valek. Now Valek is my new book boyfriend. And no, I don't share. Undoubtedly, he was my favorite character in the book.
I just love mysterious men and on top of that he's an assassin! Sexiness overload! I fell in love with him with Yelena, slowly at first then all at once. He was kind in his own way, sweet, caring, brave, loving, loyal, daring, smart, and so much more! At first glance, you may think that he's only a tool who execute the Commander's orders but when you look in the depth of the book, you see that he's the mastermind. While he's loyal to death, he isn't blind. Both, Valek and Yelena know that the law, the Code of Behavior, has its flaws (we'll get to this later). He tries to find loopholes in his own way. He's just wonderful! Even though he prefer to avoid unnecessary deaths, he will do whatever he can to achieve his goal without remorse. Unlike Yelena, who feels terribly guilty after killing someone, even if she had no other choice.

Valek and Yelena are now one of my favorite OTPs. Ever. I ship them so hard! Yes, he is 14 years older than her but I didn't find it wrong. I didn't mind the age difference yet I usually, do. Yelena wasn't childish, she was mature and old beyond her years. They understood each other and fought for their love, even before they admitted their feelings for themselves. They just make the perfect couple together. I loved the slow romance and the tension building.

Many would say the story was slow at first. While nothing major was happening in the beginning, I still couldn't put the book down. That should tell you enough. The writing style was compelling and I couldn't get enough of our characters. And I'm not only speaking about Yelena and Valek but also about secondary characters, especially Janco and Ari. I adored those two. Admired their loyalty and faith in our girl. They did their best to improve her self-defense skills.

While the Commander wasn't my favorite part of the story, we can't deny his leadership skills. The law is binding and even him, the one who promulgated it, isn't above the Code of Behavior. That doesn't mean this law was fair. It's illogical to execute a person who killed another even without meaning to. I really admired Snyder for making a law to her own world, being a law student and all, it's something I don't see often even if it wasn't anywhere near complex enough. However, I think she wanted us to see that even laws can be wrong. Even the Commander who defeated the tyrant king and made a new country, is also a dictator. The fact that he is a good ruler (with a bad Code) doesn't affect that truth, not even known to the people. I always like to have some politics in my fiction books, it's one of the reasons why I love A Song of Ice and fire that much, and even though this book nothing that heavy, it was appreciated. We also didn't have a complex world building but this book is so fun if you're looking for a light fantasy. I mean sure it gets dark sometimes but other than the imagined world and the magic touch, we don't have many fantasy elements, just to clarify this book.

***Minor spoilers ahead***
When you rate a book, the highest you can give is 5 stars on GR. And to express your endless love and admiration for it, you add it to your favorites. Those, at least to me, are as flawless as possible. I debated adding this book to my favorites or not but I didn't because I did have some issues with it. I was soo in love with it when I finished it but when you start analyzing the book and your cynical part terminates the fangirl, you try to be more objective. I don't think anyone can be objective while reviewing a book except for some basic stuff because it's a matter of taste. I did my best, though. I'm not going to dwell much on the negatives but I want to say that it felt rushed toward the end. The book could have done better with 30 or so pages because everything was happening so fast. Especially the romance.. If these two things were handled in a better way, this book would have easily made it to my favorites shelf. I also wanted more smut! Can't believe I'm admitting this but I did. It's NOT something bad just a wish because i loved them together a lot. But nothing major is better than cringy ones (no I don't mean another author and you probably know who).

I recommend this book to everyone, especially Throne of Glass and Uprooted fans. Before I read some reviews of this book, I thought I was the only one who saw similarities with Throne of Glass but I was not. I think Sarah J. Maas was inspired by Poison Study, both girls were in dungeons sentenced to death and had the opportunity to work for the ruler. But while ToG failed to deliver likable characters, especially heroines, Snyder created a lovable one. I also feel like I should mention that this book was written in 2005. 2005, okay? Before all this YA? hype. And for Uprooted fans, one of my all-time favorite books, I just know that like it even though they don't have many similarities aside from the awesome characters.

Now the hard part is continuing this series. This book was so good that it's hard for the sequel to match it but after reading many negative reviews even from the fans of the first book, I can't help but feel hesitant to continue it. I will, of course, read the next two books and soon but I'm expecting something bad so *fingers crossed*.

This book can be read as a stand-alone, as in the story develops and the main issue at the time is resolved, we don't have a cliffhanger but of course, the story didn't end here.

PS: Don't read this book if you have finals or you're so busy. I did. And I read in one sitting. One more page became one more chapter until I was finally done. And I didn't want to finish it. And I didn't study that day although the exam was two days later. Bad Nicole. Bad.

Profile Image for Tamora Pierce.
Author 106 books83.5k followers
April 11, 2009
I'm not sure if this is supposed to be adult or teen fantasy, and I don't really care. It's just plain good. Yelena, sentenced to die, is offered the chance to live as the Commander's taster. She could be poisoned at any moment, and if she tries to escape, she could die of the poison given to her at her first meeting with the Commander's chief of intelligence (he gives her the antidote daily). When she accepts, she is pitchforked into a world where she cannot tell who is an ally and who is an enemy, where she trains daily to gain the skills that will help her to survive her personal enemies, and where she must peel back her own layers to learn who she is, and what she is capable of.

Now I see why so many of my reading friends were recommending this book to me. It was good enough that I plowed through it in two days (okay, I had to break for sleep and company), and now I want to get my hands on the next books. Yelena and her master are great characters, as are the warriors who befriend Yelena, and the vengeful ghost of the sadistic young aristocrat who she killed.
Profile Image for Maria V. Snyder.
Author 76 books16.9k followers
April 10, 2020
Re-read this for a book discussion with my Soulfinders reading group on Facebook! I was pleasantly surprised by how well written it is. It was my first attempt to write a novel. It took me 3 years and I learned a lot while writing it. There's some rookie mistakes, but not too embarrassing overall. The groups going to do Magic Study next.
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books466 followers
February 6, 2022
“Everyone makes choices in life. Some bad, some good. It's called living, and if you want to bow out, then go right ahead. But don't do it halfway. Don't linger in whiner's limbo.”

Spoilers and a discussion of sexual violence and transphobia will follow.

So What's It About?

Sentenced to death for the murder of a General's son, Yelena narrowly escapes her grisly fate thanks to a precipitous offer: in exchange for her life she will become the Commander of Ixia's food taster. Her new role throws Yelena into a world of intrigue and danger that she will have to use every ounce of determination to survive.

What I Thought

I should probably make it clear from the very start of this review that this book did not click for me. I always worry about writing negative reviews, but I'll endeavor to plow onwards as best I can. There are a few reasons I think Poison Study didn't gel for me, and they are as follows:

1) The setting

My fundamental question is as follows: is Ixia supposed to be a dystopia or not? Given the world-building that is presented throughout the course of the book I feel strongly that it should be, but I don't think Snyder has entirely made up her mind. Ixia is a land led by a military commander who holds a massive amount of power and seized it through a coup. All religions are forbidden, arts and culture languish, and - most importantly- the Commander has enacted a policy of total annihilation against people who have magic:

"Magicians had been treated like disease-riddled mosquitoes. They were hunted, trapped and exterminated. Any hint or suggestion that someone had magic was a death sentence. The only chance to live was to escape to Sitia."

Quite simply, this is a genocide. Yelena spends the entire book living in terror that her magic will be exposed. What's more is that there are ample proofs of further human rights violations: dissenters are killed or disabled and the law is unyielding in the extreme. Yelena killed a man because he had been abusing her for years, but she was sentenced to death for it, and even after she saves the Commander's life and overthrows a plot to take control of Ixia she is sentenced to death again. There's a lot of sugar-coating about Yelena's position in the castle, but she is a slave: a prisoner-turned-worker doing a dangerous and menial job with no pay and the only other option being death. Then there are the tiny things, like what the Commander says to her when extenuating circumstances (that she has no control over) cause her to taste his food late one day:

“Yelena, if I have to eat cold food again, I’ll have you whipped. Understand?”

This does not paint a pretty picture of Ixia, does it? But the strange thing is that Yelena repeatedly comments that Commander Ambrose has improved the land considerably and treats everyone fairly and equally. By the end of the book we are clearly supposed to see him and his spymaster (and right hand man) Valek in a very positive light; Valek is the story's love interest. There's a baffling discrepancy between what the reader is supposed to feel and what is actually written on the page.

2) The trauma

Yelena murders the General's son after years of horrific abuse, culminating in sexual assault. In addition, she is attacked and threatened with rape on a couple of other occasions throughout the book. She is taunted by Reyad's ghost on several occasions and has one flashback to the sexual assault but other than that she is perfectly well-adjusted despite the fact that she is currently a slave who confronts death on a daily basis, was previously imprisoned for months and before that was a tortured orphan. On the occasion of the most intense confrontation with the ghost and the flashback to the rape, she suddenly snaps back into the present moment and basically just thinks to herself "Oh welp I missed breakfast! Darn it!"

In addition, you could almost make the argument that the sexual violence is all perpetrated by members of the military and this demonstrates the cruelty and devaluation of human rights that is inherent to Ixia's militaristic society. But Ixia is an equal society, and the Commander makes sure everyone is treated fairly, remember?

3) The romance

"Valek snatched a gray rock from his desk and hurled it toward me."

Ahhhhhh, love. Listen, folks, I love me a broody Murder Boy as much as the next girl, but not a single thing about this particular broody Murder Boy worked for me at all. First of all, we've established that Yelena is a slave, right? Well, Valek is in control of virtually every aspect of her existence. He controls whether she lives or dies, whether she lives in his rooms or the dungeon, whether she gets the antidote that saves her from agonizing pain on a daily basis. There is no possibility of a healthy romance stemming from this context and no amount of carved butterflies can change that. Did I mention he throws a rock at her head?

4) The transphobia

There is a dramatic reveal about Commander Ambrose at the end of the book, and it is as follows:

"He was a she, but with the utter conviction that she should have been born a man."

While I think it's pretty cool that Snyder chose to include a trans character in a fantasy world so long ago, I think it's possible that this phrasing has just aged poorly so that it doesn't stand up to gender-affirming language in the present day; this phrasing implies that a transgender man is in fact just a woman (a "she") who really, really feels (has an "utter conviction") like she is a man (a "he").

Yelena does switch back to referring to Ambrose as a man, but there is then another revelation that bothers me more than anything else about this book: Yelena realizes that the reason the Commander is committing a genocide against magicians is because they might be able to discover that he's transgender. Ah!!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Zainab.
384 reviews530 followers
May 17, 2020
I feel like this is one of those books that a lot of people have heard of but haven't really read.
Maybe that's just me trying to make myself feel better about not reading it before lol.

This book was weird-in a good way. It's very dark and if you know me, you know I love dark books so there's that BUT the love interest? I don't know, man. At first Valek is described as a man man so in my mind he was automatically above 40 (I am very well aware of the fact that that is not the age criteria for a man but my mind works differently). And then Yelena is 19 so I thought Valek would be a weird nice uncle-ish and not the main guy. But I was, you know, wrong.
Anyway, it was good. I liked it.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11.2k followers
March 29, 2011

2.5 to 3.0 stars. Let me begin this review by saying that I think I’m becoming much harder to please when it comes to fantasy stories so please keep that in mind. Having read quite a few, the standard fantasy plot elements just don’t produce the same warm and fuzzy feeling that I used to experience when reading these kinds of stories. I must have hit my tolerance threshold for the fantasy “drug” because I find that I am needing greater and greater amounts of awesomeness in order to get that "special feeling" I used to get.

Part of the issue may be that I have read a number of fantasy books that were "Oh My God, I will never stop loving you" good and they have raised the bar on fantasy books in general. I am now more selective in what I read in the fantasy genre and generally try and seek out books that have truly exceptional characters or unique and memorable world-building or just "off the chart" quality writing and dialogue.

These books are more difficult to find but the payoff is worth it. For example, Joe Abercrombie's "First Law Trilogy" or Guy Gavriel kay's The Fionavar Tapestry or.....or.....or.....or.....or......
Um....um.....sorry about that......I was just remembering the first time I read The Lies of Locke Lamora and, uh...I mean....where was I?...Oh, oh, the Poison Study review.

Anyway, for those new to fantasy or those that are true fantasy junkies, you may love this as it is certainly a QUALITY book. I had no problems with any of the critical elements (i.e., characters, writing, world-building, magic and plot). I just wasn’t blown away by anything and when I was finished I didn’t feel like I had experienced anything new that I would remember much beyond writing this review.
Profile Image for Whitney Atkinson.
940 reviews13.9k followers
December 13, 2018
3.5 stars

This book isn't a low-ish rating because it had bad things occurring, but I feel like it started out at a 3 stars at a baseline rating and just didn't do much to make it any higher of a rating. I listened to this on audio, which is different because I typically get lost when I listen to fantasy on audio, but the cast of characters in this was actually pretty easy to keep clear, the magic system was comprehensible, and the plot and subplots were paced great. However, this didn't satisfy what I crave in fantasy books, so it just didn't personally check every box I would have ideally liked.

The characters in this felt a bit muddled. From character descriptions to their motivations and backstories, they felt a bit at arm's length. I didn't know any of the characters' ages and so for half the book, I mistakenly thought the love interest was 20+ years older than he actually was. Additionally, I thought the lead female character was written in a very general model of girl doesn't know she has powers/girl was abused and has to overcome her oppressors/girl is taken from jail to serve the government (*dry cough*). I didn't feel gripped at any point in this story other than the rare kissing scenes, but I did like the sprinkles of intrigue with the governments and I did enjoy listening to this just for the fun plot of it.

Hopefully in future books there'll be a bigger cast of characters and we'll be able to dive into their personalities and motives and backstories instead of skimming the surface and only seeing their interactions. So really there was nothing wrong with this book, I just wanted moooore. Everything felt slightly too dry.
Profile Image for Kainat 《HUFFLEPUFF & PROUD》.
293 reviews724 followers
July 11, 2016
4.5 Stars.
Full review to come.

Ari and Janco are my favorite!! Of course I love Valek and Yalena, but Ari and Janco are my puppies!! I guess I have a thing for adorable/funny twins!! So much love!!!!!

It's been more than 7 years since i read this book. Time to finish this series!! I've had these books for a while now, the pages have turned yellowish, and they smell like old books. I love it.
First line of the book:

"Locked in darkness that surrounded me like a coffin,
i had nothing to distract me from my memories."

Katie Mcgrath is my Yelena.

Profile Image for Lainey.
261 reviews1,576 followers
February 26, 2016
Oh wow, like, really. Wow. This was seriously everything I wanted and needed in a fantasy read. I'm just so damn happy that I have the other two books in the trilogy so I don't have to wait with ordering them.This will definitely be one of the my favorite series I've read all year.

Poison Study follows a young woman named Yelena, who has been in the Commander's dungeons for almost a year upon killing a man. The day she is set for execution, she is given a choice. She could either go through with her execution or she could be the new food taster for the Commander. Bet you can guess when she chose or else this book would have only been ten pages long.

Holy shit, I loved this book. Yelena has quickly become one of my favorite female protagonists because she's badass without Snyder shoving it down your throat that she's badass. A lot about this character is SHOWN to you instead of TOLD to you, which as a reader, I appreciate so much. The book is also told in first perspective, which sometimes I find it easier for me to grow annoyed with the main character because first perspective is so limited, but I LOVED this perspective and I loved Yelena's voice. You really see her growth too from this dungeon rat to this all-around badass who is still learning but can hold her own. There's quite a bit of the whole "training montage" happening in this story. Most of the time in stories, I hate when we go through the stereotypical training sequences and I was nervous at first because not only does Yelena go through poison training, she also goes through fighting training. BUT Snyder never makes you feel like all you're doing it reading about Yelena training. Somehow, she writes a perfect balance between training scenes and summarizing that totally works for the story and HOW DOES SHE DO THAT? I've never read a book with that perfect of a balance.

Valek. Ohmygod, Valek. What a hunk of man meat. So while I just recently learned that this series isn't actually YA, but adult, it makes more sense (even though I feel like this series is marketed towards a YA audience) do you know how many times I praised at the fact that Valek wasn't an eighteen year old? Valek is the Commander's head of security, captain of the guard, whatever you want to call that position. He's in his early thirties which completely fits the rank he hold and the skills he has. Too often in YA do I see eighteen or nineteen years old controlling armies or head assassin or captain of the guard and I always think that's unrealistic - even in a fantasy. Valek is stone-cold but he is so well-rounded. We find out so much about him through the observations and snooping. Also. Can we appreciate the fact that the "trope housekeeper" that Valek and the Commander trust the most didn't give Yelena the expositional story on Valek's past? PRAISE. PRAISE. I hate when an author brings in a housekeeper character just to do that.

Moving on to the story and the plot. What I liked about the story was how layered it was. There was new things being introduced, history being told to us, and while the summary is extremely straight-forward to a point where you could feel this story could be a standalone, the new aspects including political corruption, magic, and the plethora of other territories, completely introduces the reader into this world that has many stories to tell and more directions Yelena's story could go. Snyder balanced flashbacks really well too. She gave us insight into Yelena's past that put her in the dungeon without overbearing us with too much past scenes. Based off the ending, I can't wait to pick up the second book. I really enjoyed the journey of the first book. I felt like it was paced perfectly, not at all rushed, and the writing was completely effortless.

I'm definitely going to recommend this book. Especially if you find yourself having the same reading style as I do.
Profile Image for Kassidy.
340 reviews11k followers
April 9, 2020
Magic, danger, plot twists, slow-burn romance... so so good!! 4.5*, I wish the characters were a little more fleshed out, but I loved this story overall.
Profile Image for Simona B.
898 reviews3,009 followers
July 3, 2016
"Poisoned, pursued and living with a psychopath. Not what I would consider the good life. Death has its perks."

This is to hard to rate. The originality deserves a full four, but the the issues I had with the writining make it impossible for me to grant it. 3.75 because I enjoyed it a lot? But rounded down to three because it would have taken so little for it to be better, and that leaves a bitter, bitter taste in my mouth.

The story had me hooked practically immediately. I knew I would be swept up in it the moment I realized it was about this girl who had to train as a food taster. I don't know what I expected, exactly; probably something a bit different from this, even though I could not pinpoint how, but nonetheless I enjoyed it immensely. The plot, while a little naive and predictable at times, never fail in holding the reader's attentions.

•I have a special symapthy for our main character, Yelena. She is no assassin, no fighter, no feisty creature and she has no problems accepting it, and it's so tremendously refreshing that I loved her from the start. During the story, she learns to fight and to stand up for herself, but she never leaves behind her aura of innocence, so to say, of tranquillity, and this, paired with a couple of interesting things she finds out about some peculiar abilities of hers, leads me to think her true talents lie in something different, for once, from her fists or a sword. Don't get me wrong, kick-ass heroines are wonderful (when they are properly fleshed-out as characters), but I love it so much more when a woman proves she can fight just as well even if armed only with her mind (for further information, see The Winner's Curse).

The other characters may not be particularly rounded nor deep, but they do their job and prove pleasant companions throughout the book. Valek is fabulous,. Ari and Janco are adorable, . I (kind of?) liked the Commander's backstory, but I think it lacked development. A story that important can't be dismissed with a couple of lines here and there. I wanted to know what exactly had happened and way, and I very much hope we will receive further clarification in the following installments.

•Now, what really, really bothered me and the reason why I'm not rating the book four stars: the writing. It is not horrible or bad or unpleasant in the very real sense of the word, but it is extremely flat, unemotional (which, depending on the case, can be a remarkable perk, but here it is not), monotone, which negatively reflected on the characters' personalities an attitudes. They seem to be incapable of distinguishing between events needing strong reactions and mundane actions, because their response is always dull, somehow, as if coated or encased in ice, as if set in advance to "act as usual" instead of "act accordingly". I don't know how to explain myself better than this. I know this particular flaw is to blame on the writing because this isn't the first time I encounter it in a book, and every single time it annoys me and spoils my enjoyment like few other things can.

➽I can't get over this last point simply because stories are nothing without emotion, to me, so the issue is very subjective and personal. For this reason, it is more than possible, and maybe even likely, that for many of you it won't be that much of a problem; in that case, feel free to consider I rated the book four stars and dive into it, because it's definitely, definitely worth a try. Strongly recommended.
Profile Image for Mika Auguste.
177 reviews2,781 followers
October 24, 2021
4.5 stars THIS WAS SO GOOD. I can see that so many young adult novels out today were definitely inspired by this book. *cough Sarah J Maas* But even though this book originally came out in the early 2000’s it aged incredibly. This is also 100% a new adult fantasy which the girlies just aren’t doing anymore smh...

I honestly didn’t think i was going to rate this book anything higher than a 3 star rating when i initially started it, but to say this book definitely exceeded my expectations would be an understatement.

i would also like to note there are TW’s for situations such as rape, abuse, sexual assault, death, gore, etc...if you want to know more there are many sources going into details about what trigger warning there are.
Profile Image for Wendy Darling.
1,631 reviews34k followers
February 22, 2011
This review is for all three books, since I think most people will check Book 1 to see if they should begin a series.

This series has a really fascinating set-up, and I liked a number of the characters, including Valek and Janco and Ari. It took me a long time to get through the first book, however, and I probably would not have kept going if I hadn't purchased all three books as a Kindle bundle.

I found the language difficult to get used to, since it veered between a rather mannered, old-fashioned style (no doubt to make it seem as if it might have taken place in a different time/place) and very young, very modern teen-speak. I had a hard time remembering that Yelena was supposed to be 18 since some circumstances and things make her seem very adult (her job, her boyfriend, etc) while others made her seem like a 13-year-old (the language, many of her decisions, etc). As the books went on, the action and plotting became less believable and pretty scattered, and I felt less and less engaged by what was going on.

The biggest flaw, however, was the way the books were written. While there's decent sentence structure and such, there are often long, unbroken blocks of text where things are explained or described at great length. Most importantly, there is a weird emotional distance in the way the author writes and you never really feel attached to Yelena or empathize with what's going on. There is a lot of telling rather than showing, and many significant events (reuniting with a mother and father you haven't seen in 14 years, for example) aren't written with the kind of impact you would expect. Many things are just plain illogical, too--I mean, if you hadn't so much as kissed a boy or looked into his eyes longingly even once, would you really just reach around and undo his pants in a time/setting like this? Many of these set-ups just don't ring true.

Even things that start out sort of cute (Yelena talks to her horse) become ridiculous by the third book. What began as the projection of simple thoughts and images and communication spun into the horse providing her with an idea for bribing another character with honey, the horse taking revenge on someone on Yelena's behalf, etc. Waaay over the top.

I really wanted to like this series, but in the end, it just didn't do it for me.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Lyndsey.
126 reviews3,186 followers
February 16, 2011
One of these things does not belong here:

Well, one of these things does not belong in a fantasy novel. Hint - it is small, electronic, and blue!

More on that later. So this is another one of many books...

A story about an orphaned girl, whose been tortured and basically given a rotten hand that's full of all jokers, most likely dealt by some sort of sleight of hand magician or something. Rough life. Blada-blada-blah. After mysteries are introduced and back stories told, she encounters a mysterious character who reveals she is "special" and, imagine that, has a unique power.

So as much as I hate to admit that this a FORMULA novel, I don't mind admitting that I LOVED it.

So yeah, it's AWE-some!

The reason these durn formulas exist is because they work. We like to read about special people, because we all like to hope that we are special too. The reality is that, while everyone is unique, we aren't all special. We don't all have superpowers or magical inclinations. Damn! It sucks. But we have to deal with it. What we don't have to do is read about it. Because let's face it, it dull to read about boring people. So I prefer not too.

Yelena and Valek are anything but dull. I'm was very impressed with Yelena. She nev-er plays the damsel in distress card, expects anyone to rescue her or even to just help her. She takes responsibility for her past and future actions, accepting punishment when she has to and planning ahead when she begins to have options.

When Valek enters the story, it isn't blatantly-hit-you-over-the-head-obvious that he will end up being a love interest. The relationship develops slowly. It simmers. He isn't the perfect boyfriend, over-achiever type. Yet he isn't the unpredictable and unreliable bad boy. He's mysterious and inscrutable. Makes you wonder what he's hiding with that quiet confidence. In other words: mmmmmm yea-ah!

The technology and culture can be confusing. There is talk of a 10 tiered wedding cake, switchblades, and even a TRAMPOLINE. But they use candles and covered wagons? Like a mish mash of culture. Can you even make a trampoline without modern equipment? Then again, they do have magic.

I realize this is just nit picking. However, unrelated metaphors or descriptions bother me because it takes you out of the story, out of the fantasy realm, and brings you back to Earth. And Earth is all well and good when I'm here. But when I'm reading, I prefer the blissful ignorance of the fantasy world.

The main reason I brought this is up is because I was happily reading along, despite the 10 tiered wedding cake and switchblade references bothering me; I stuck with it until the trampoline. I was so confused about whether or not they would actually be able to MAKE a trampoline with their level of technology, that I felt compelled to stop reading and look up the history of the trampoline, which by our standard wasn't actually invented and named until 1936, after the onset of automobiles and electricity. Regardless, I think a more accurate description for the culture would have been a trapeze tight net, if the passage was even necessary at all.

It disturbed me so much I actually had a dream about it. The characters in the book all had modern equipment like lightbulbs and cars but they completely ignored all of it and went about their business. Sorry about the long gripe but I have OCD when it comes to literature.

I don't like anything in my books that isn't supposed to be there, including names written inside the cover, book plates, highlighting, and trampolines in fantasy novels!

Imagine if Samwise and Frodo had stumbled upon a trampoline on their journey!? Uh, no. It's funny to picture but it just doesn't work in the context of the book.

Why not just give Frodo a gold medallion, some extra bling, and put him on a professional basketball team? Well, what do you know?

Anyway, there are already too many factors measuring into my reader's ADD. I get pulled away easily enough as it is, and I shouldn't need to worry about whether or not they should have trampolines. It was a completely unnecessary and distracting fiasco. But there is still a bright side: I feel like I learned something new.

Despite my gripes, I loved it. The characters really got into my head. It is actually unusual for me to dream about characters from a book. Usually, my mind is inventing it's own bizarre hogwash, so the dream is actually a compliment to the author and her character development.

Maria's prose is concise and creative. Apart from the aforementioned, her descriptions and metaphors are usually spot on and beautifully constructed. The characters are fully developed, each with backstories, subplots and their own unique quirks.

There's Janco, a military man who trains Yelena. He also rhymes while fighting - and I mean it. Anybody wanna peanut? And then there's Ari, Janco's best bud who also helps with the training. I really loved the scenes with these two. They're a breath of fresh air. There's also Rand, the gourmet chef addicted to gambling. I felt for him...at first. There's Reyad, resident jerk, whose apparent weakness is

I'm excited for the sequels and will probably be going to get Magic Study very soon! I really hope all her books are as good, because they all look so damn interesting. Definitely will keep reading them. And I apologize for both my OCD and ADD. Great combo, huh? Fortunately, they both seem to apply mostly to reading and not necessarily all aspects of my life. *mischievous grin*

And now, I can't get the image of Frodo and Samwise bouncing on a trampoline out of my head!!!! Aaaaaaaah! Oh, the humanity! Or rather, hobbitmanity!?! ROFL.

My review for the second book: Magic Study

My review for the third book: Fire Study
Profile Image for Maria V. Snyder.
Author 76 books16.9k followers
September 16, 2012
Poison Study just came out in Turkish as Zehir Ustasi (Poison Master)! Pretty cool - eh?
Profile Image for Sabrina.
477 reviews252 followers
Want to read
October 17, 2018
I want to know who this couple that everyone love is.
Very excited.
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