Review of Poison Study – Book 1 of the Yelena Zaltana trilogy by Maria V. Snyder

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This enjoyable fantasy – like all of the better quality books in any genre – possesses all the ingredients that make speculative fiction fans look for more of the same, but also gives a new spin on the premise. So you have your intrepid, but severely victimised heroine; a poisonstudysatisfyingly nasty and dangerous villain and a plethora of awkward and potentially lethal choices confronting your plucky protagonist…

And the difference? Already convicted for murder, Yelena is under the death sentence when the book opens and has a choice – be executed for murder or become food taster to the Commander of Ixia. She leaps at the chance for survival, but her relief may be short-lived. The Commander’s food tasters don’t have much life expectancy – and small wonder. Life in the palace is full of hazards and secrets. Yelena must learn to identify poisons before they kill her, recognise whom she can trust and how to spy on those she can’t. And who is the mysterious Southern sorceress who can reach into her head?

I liked the fact that Snyder opted not to give us a blow-by-blow account of Yelena’s grim history of coercion, torture and rape – but started the book at the point when she is offered a way out. Told in first person POV, the story whips along at a suitably cracking pace as Yelena struggles to survive in this hostile environment. Snyder gives us a reasonably rounded protagonist and the supporting cast are well drawn and interesting. Although I found the main male character just a little too much in command of everything going on around him. If he’d floundered a little bit more, there could have been a greater sense of danger during the main crisis point of the plot.

However, this is a relatively picky point in a well-written and slickly crafted story that zips along with plenty of action and character development. When I finished the book, I immediately reached for Magic Study, the second book in the series. And when I finish it tonight, I’m going to dive straight into the third book…
8/10

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