Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder was released in 2005 but you’d think it was a book for today’s social climate. Here’s a look at the first book in the series with minor spoilers.
If you haven’t checked out Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder and love fantasy YA fiction, this is certainly one that I highly recommend checking out. While it was written in 2005, you wouldn’t think it as you get through to the end. It’s got a twist that is positive and connected to today’s social climate.
I don’t want to give away the ending, so there are only minor spoilers in this review. All I will say is that it links to Commander Ambrose, who you don’t get to see too much throughout the story. After all, this isn’t about him but about Yelena, the 19-year-old convict who makes the choice to become the Commander’s food taster instead of execution.
A setup for a bigger world
Poison Study is the first part of a book series set within this magical world. Originally only a three-book series, Snyder returned recently with three more books and novellas to continue the story. After reading the first two chapters of the novel, I immediately ordered the second two books in the first part of the trilogy. This is one of those storylines that I need to see play out to the original ending — and then I’ll make a choice about continuing on.
Like many first books, there is a lot of exposition to set up the world. There’s a backstory for how Ambrose became the Commander. There is a look at why magicians are exiled and what Yelena did to be sent to prison — there’s absolutely no doubt that she’s guilty but you get to find out the reasons behind her actions.
More importantly, there’s a setup for the love story, because every YA book needs a romance, right? I actually found the romance a little rushed. One minute the novel was focused on the bigger picture of the political coup and the next minute Yelena was in love with her poisoner. Yes, there was some buildup but it was minimal.
It felt like Snyder had decided at the last minute that she would make the romance more prominent in the first book. This wasn’t a story that needed it or it needed to be slightly longer to sprinkle the relationship further, but it does set up things for the next novel.
A big twist at the end with predictable plotlines building up
I’ll say that I never saw the twist at the end coming. When speaking to others who have read Poison Study, they said the same, especially considering the novel was written in 2005. However, I’m glad that the twist was there.
It was, unfortunately, the only twist that wasn’t predictable. A lot of the plotlines are standard ones used throughout YA.
I will admit that I read and watch TV alot, which certainly affects plotlines being predictable. Also, as a writer, I tend to look out for clues along the way to see if I can guess a storyline. One of the plotlines involves someone close to Yelena, who turns out to be a spy. It’s clear who it is from the very beginning, especially if you’re one to read between the lines.
Strong development of characters
Despite its short length — just short of 400 pages and about 11 hours run-time on Audible — it does develop the world and the main characters well. Poison Study suffers from being told in the first person, though. We get a lot about Yelena and her past, along with her view of the people she meets, and this book could benefit from a third-person point of view.
My two favorite characters have to be Jancho and Ari. They’re soldiers Yelena meets after a day spent on the run in the forest (not sharing why she’s on the run) and because of her actions, they’re promoted. They owe her a lot and remain loyal to her throughout, showing that there are some good eggs within this world.
More importantly, the two are like brothers. They are the yin to each others’ yang. Teamed up, they are almost impossible to defeat, but they don’t quite realize that. Yet, they have a strong bond that is unshakable, even if they don’t always agree. If you watch Outlander the TV show, they are very much like Rupert and Angus. That’s the best way I can describe them.
I do think Valek and Marin could do with more development. They get a little, but, because of the first-person POV and their personalities, we don’t get to see enough. Irys gets little, too, but that’s understandable and, I suspect, there’s more of that to come in Magic Study.
I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t put it down. I got both the physical book and the Audible version and switched between the two depending on whether I had time to read or could only listen. A lot of books I’ll only choose one or the other depending on how I feel but I needed to know how Poison Study played out as soon as possible.
Have you read Poison Study yet? Is this a book series for you? What genre of books do you prefer? Share your thoughts in the comments below.