In the fantasy world of Poison Study deadly criminals are given a reprieve: execution or employment as the Commander of Ixia’s food taster. Yelena has been imprisoned for murder and she has been offered the choice; she does not want to die so she decides to become the Commander’s food taster. Responsible for training Yelena in identifying the poisons that may be disguised in the Commander’s food is head spook and assassin, Valek. When the Commander makes some questionable political decisions, Valek has to decide whether or not to trust his criminal apprentice or risk the fate of the nation, and Yelena has to decide where her loyalties truly lay.
I cannot rave about this book enough! It was a great start to a fantastic series. The characters of Yelena and Valek were compelling and grown-up and the plot was intriguing and dark without going too far for an older teen audience. One thing that readers should be aware of is the circumstances that led Yelena to commit murder. So fair warning for spoilers ahead. Yelena was taken in as child by a seemingly benevolent man; however, his son conducted disturbing experiments on those that were adopted. Yelena was of particular fascination for the son and it eventually led to rape. This was not a pleasant part to read in the story and may make some readers uncomfortable. This type of violence in books is something that very much bothers me and had I know about this I may have opted not to read the tale. In the end, despite the darker subject matter I was satisfied with how Snyder dealt with this serious issue. I liked the fact that Yelena was able to find strength and develop relationships at the Commander’s palace after all that has happened to her. Ultimately, is was a story of renewal for Yelena and I think she was able to find herself again.
What I think will also appeal to readers is the romance aspect between Yelena and Valek. This was a slow developing relationship, but it could hardly be anything less due to the circumstances of their meeting and Yelena’s past. But the wait is worthwhile for romance fans. Fans of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling and Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass will be sure to find something to like with Yelena and Valek. Yelena reminds me a lot of Katsa (Graceling) and Celaena (Throne of Glass) both of whom where woman who are trapped in rather hash circumstances and able to overcome those odds (it doesn’t hurt that they were also able to find a bit of romance as well).
For readers interested in the fantasy elements of the story, Snyder develops an interesting world where magic has been outlawed and the Commander of Ixia will go to dramatic lengths to ensure that magicians do not breach it’s borders – a problem considering that Yelena may have some magical ability herself. The world is well constructed and for some reason makes me think of Russia, but I think that is more due to the names than any overt setting elements. So, for readers who are looking for a good fantasy story, this one delivers an interesting world.
Overall, if your looking for a great teen fantasy romance with lots of intrigue and action you need to check out this one post haste. Having read some of Snyder’s other series, I would also recommend giving her other series a try.