Maria V. Snyder – Poison Study (Book Review)

Poison Study cover

Maria V. Snyder – Poison Study

What would you do if you were forced to become a king’s food taster, and also given a poison that would kill you if you ever tried to run away from that dangerous job? Would you rebel, quietly work on staying alive, or just give in and become completely loyal to your captors? Yelena, the hero of Poison Study, goes through all those stages. Admittedly, this captivity doesn’t sound as bad as her alternative, since she was a condemned prisoner before that. Still, her behavior would seem like Stockholm Syndrome if author Maria V. Snyder didn’t stack the deck in her favor from the beginning: Yelena has a front-row seat to most royal events, protection from the second-in-command, and a personal history with the people who turn out to threaten the crown. Also, there’s a love interest to keep her loyal. Though this is a fantasy book, there’s a strong dose of the romance genre in it.

In general, your opinion about the book will depend on how much you mind the deck-stacking. Snyder definitely sets up the world and the situations so that Yelena always has a way through. A lot of that makes little sense – Why is Yelena granted so much freedom, as well as so much personal help from the head of security and intelligence, when that man other times makes it clear that he doesn’t trust a condemned murderer like her one bit? Yelena is skilled – she’s no passive heroine-in-distress – but these skills usually feel like arbitrary decisions made by the author to get her through the story. Everything about the rules, traditions, and situations that occur has been set up to get her from Point A to Point B.

On the other hand, Poison Study is light and often fun. Even if most of the characters and plot events are foreshadowed, it’s still interesting to see the details unfold. And the setting is clever. Ixia is ruled by an iron-fisted dictator whose harsh laws make no exceptions for people’s motives or life situations. However, it replaced a corrupt kingdom which rewarded only power and bribery. The book doesn’t shy away from the evils of the current system, but makes a good argument that the citizens are better off than they had been before.

Though there is magic (arbitrary rules have been set up to ensure Yelena’s victory, remember?), most of the book feels grounded in reality. A romance fan could enjoy this easily, although it’s still definitely more of a fantasy novel. The romance never derails the plot, even though it is fairly obvious all along. I did mind the abusive undertones to it – The man is controlling and violent, but that’s ok because Yelena understands him. These are just undertones, at least, making it better than a lot of successful romances, and I was glad to see Yelena stand up for herself most of the time.

I can’t recommend Poison Study, but didn’t dislike it either. It’s clever sometimes, predictable others, with two-dimensional characters in an interesting situation. Yelena succeeds at times just because she’s the main character, but other times because she’s a strong, confident woman. It’s blandly enjoyable and doesn’t insult the reader’s intelligence, but it frequently skirts that line.

Grade: C+

 
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