Friday, July 1, 2016

Review: Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

[Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead]

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Goodreads Summary:

Choose: A quick death…Or slow poison...

About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She'll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace—and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.

And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly's Dust—and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison.

As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can't control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren't so clear...

The main reason why I picked up this book is due to the unique premise of a main character who is a food taster. I had never read a book that dealt with this topic before, so I was very excited to learn about the practice. And Snyder certainly delivered. The first few chapters of Poison Study focus on Yelena's training as a food taster, where she must learn to identify poisons by smelling and tasting the food, an often delicate operation. Though, granted, this takes place in a fantasy world, I felt like I learned a lot about how food tasting might have been done in the old days, and it made me want to study poisons in more detail so I, too, could identify them in an emergency.
I also very much enjoyed the main character Yelena and her development throughout the novel. She starts out quite submissive to her captor, Valek, a trait which I found refreshing after a lifetime of reading books about feisty heroines who mouth off to their captors the moment they are given the chance. Furthermore, she does not choose to submit out of fear, but rather out of practicality. She knows that rebelling would not help her at all, but doing what she's told would. This behavior on her part is rewarded when Valek offers her a reprieve in the position of food taster.

Yelena is also laudable as a character in that she changes greatly throughout the book. She discovers her own strength as she trains with twins Ari and Janco, she learns to face her fears and move on from her past, [even making the ghost of Reyad, the man she killed, leave her alone after he had haunted her for an extended period of time]. (Highlight between the brackets for a spoiler.) She refuses to let her enemies' attempts to kill her shake her resolve to do what's right. She even grows into her [magical abilities]. By the end of the book, she is a much stronger, wiser character than at the start.

Another point I enjoyed about the story was that the romance took a backseat. Though it does form a part of the plot, it takes up very little space, thus allowing the romance to enhance the plot, not obscure it.


Despite these many positives, I still found the book only mildly interesting due to two key problems: plot and pacing.

Though it started out promisingly with Yelena's food taster training, the plot soon became repetitive. I read the book slowly over several weeks, and it felt like every time I picked up the book the same four things happened: Yelena tastes food, is almost assassinated, finds out something new, and has an awkward conversation with Valek. Sure, each of these events are interesting once or twice, but the continuous cycling through these four plot devices left the book feeling rather uninteresting as each page was something I had essentially seen before.

The pacing of the plot also felt off. The sequence of events moved very slowly and things only picked up at the climactic ending. Only once in a while would something truly momentous happen, whereas the everyday happenings in Yelena's life took up much of the space, leaving feeling uninterested in what was going on.

Also, can we just talk about Criollo for a second? I thought the idea of [chocolate as a way to open the mind to magic] was, though perhaps unique, very strange and inconsistent with the feel of the rest of the book.

Overall, though the book started well, I ended up mostly bored with the book and hard time pushing myself to get to the end.

Now I'm going to do a breakdown of each element of the book, judging it on different criteria. I'll rate each element on a scale of 1-5, 1 being bad, and 5 being amazing.

Plot: 2

Complexity: 2
Creativity: 2
Believability: 3
Surprise: 2

Characters: 3

Depth: 3
Personality: 3
Believability: 4

Writing Style: 2

Description: 2
Tension: 1
Vocabulary: 2

Overall Score: 2

Happy Reading!


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