Thursday, August 11, 2011
Pages: 409 (paperback)
Published: 2005 by Mira
Recommended for: not just fantasy fans-- pretty much any reader will find something to enjoy in this one
Poison Study has a lot in common with those USA spy shows which they run marathons of every week or so. Even the people who consider themselves immune to the mind-numbing powers of drama TV for the most part *waves hand*, will doubtless fall prey to the absorbing formulaic plot and constant action, and end up watching the entire episode no matter how they try to get away during commercial breaks. There were a lot of elements in this novel I'd definitely seen before in fantasy: lots of court politics (minus the king, who'd been murdered long ago), gossipy kitchen workers, Smelly Dungeons, and a Seemingly Ordinary Girl who in fact is an Innately Potent Magician and perhaps also a Lost Heir. (If you're ever up for a laugh, read Diana Wynne Jones's Tough Guide to Fantasyland).
Yelena has spent the past year rotting away in a dungeon, awaiting her execution for the murder of a General's son. A murder she does not even deny committing. When Yelena is roughly wrenched from her prison at last, she expects to encounter the noose, but instead she is brought before Valek, the Commander's most expert and trusted ally. Valek informs her that the Commander's previous food-taster has died, and by law, the next prisoner to be executed-- her-- must be offered the position. Desperate to escape the noose, Yelena agrees. She begins to train under Valek, for it seems there is more to being the Commander's official food-taster than taking a bite of his meals and waiting to see if she keels over. Yelena learns the precise and deadly art of poisons and of physical combat, from a couple of friendly soldiers, even as the circumstances surrounding her crime are brought violently into the light by enemies of the Commandeer, including the father of the man she killed. Meanwhile, Yelena cannot help but be drawn in by Valek. Dangerous and unknowable as he is, she dares to believe that she has discovered a hidden kindness in this apparently cold and business-like assassin...
Yelena was an intelligent protagonist, and I really grew to like her despite the fact she tended to get in a hell of a lot of trouble every few minutes. (Really, the woman broke a record for Most Injuries Received Over the Course of 400 Pages!) Valek was my favorite character by far. He was ninja, in a word. I also loved how he showed that he cared for Yelena in very small ways at first-- so much that we were never quite sure he returned her equally subtle affections, but strongly suspected it. I can't wait to read more about these two... must get Fire Study, the sequel. There were a few plot twists I saw coming, and one I never would have guessed in a billion years. Poison Study is a great read-- not the most unique fantasy ever, but a fascinating and very well-written one nevertheless.
Cover: 4/5 (there are a ton of different covers-- I don't like this one the best, but it was the cheapest editon ;)