Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance, Magic, Fiction
“Everyone makes choices in life. Some bad, some good. It’s called living, and if you want to bow out, then go right ahead. But don’t do it halfway. Don’t linger in whiner’s limbo.”
Full disclosure, this wasn’t my first time reading this story – more like my 4th or 5th – so nothing I have to say about this series is going to be based on first impressions. However, the fact that I’ve read this series so many times just goes to show how much I love the tale and the world that Snyder has created here.
The reason that I picked up Poison Study this time around was because I went to read Snyder’s Glass series. I got about 2 chapters into Storm Glass before I realized that I didn’t remember the specifics of what happened in the Poison Study series well enough to understand what was going on in the world. So, here we go – after more than a year away from this world, I’ve dived straight back into this fantastic world.
In Poison Study, Snyder has created the nation of Ixia where magic is illegal and is boarded to the South by the nation of Sitia which is ruled by powerful magic users. Since coming to power, the Commander has closed its boarders with Sitia and deemed all magic to be vile. Now all that’s protecting him from assassination attempts are his master spy, Valek, and his taste tester.
As per their code the prisoner that’s next in line to be hanged is given the choice of becoming the taste tester for the Commander, though not everyone says yes to the job. Yelena, however, jumps at the opportunity to keep living, even if it’s a life filled with poisons and deceit.
My favourite thing in this story is the way that Snyder depicts the world in shades of grey. Nothing is black and white, not even the code of ethics that Ixia follows. The characters must decide for themselves what they believe to be the most important to them, what they’re willing to risk in order to do what they think is right. For a militaristic land, these decisions could be life or death.
While the magic in this world is intensive, it is not the main focus of this novel. Instead, it is a tool that is used when needed. It is not a crutch that the characters in this land use to do everything but something that is to be avoided at all costs. Especially since being caught with magic is the equivalent of signing your own death warrant.
If you’re looking for a fun story about poisons and romance, I think you’d enjoy this read. I found it interesting to learn about the different ways to detect poisons and how the body may react to them. While it may seem like a morbid fascination, I’ve always been curious about poisons and how they work. Snyder does an amazing job at outlining this very thing.
Before I go onto spoilers, can I just say how terrifying it is to think of spiders the size of small dogs? While only briefly mentioned in this book (and we don’t actually get to see them), I shivered when they were mentioned. It can’t just be the arachnophobia in me – giant spiders are terrifying.
I really enjoy the way that Snyder presents the Commander. As someone who identifies as the sex I was born with, I can only say that it looks like a beautiful show of transgender representation within literature. (If I’m mistaken, please let me know as I always like to be better educated on the subject.) It’s very clear that the Commander feels like a man even if he was born into the body of a female. The way that Yelena accepts the Commander as a man is the way that all people should accept transgendered individuals – no judgement or confusion over pronouns or the person’s identity.
I’ve always found it interesting the way that Snyder introduced the gender that the Commander was born with. The idea that the Commander was so overcome by the criollo from Brazell and Mogkan that his thoughts were practically leaking out of his head was a creative and unique way to show the Commander’s past. Yelena being drunk on brandy and not being able to control her magic yet allowed her to subconsciously make her way into the Commander’s mind where she saw the Commander killing the snow cat. It makes sense that Yelena thought she was just dreaming – Yelena didn’t yet understand how and when she used her magic.
Speaking of Brazell, he’s a real piece of work. Not only did he torture Yelena for years in order to see if she’d show any magical prowess, but he tried to have her murdered multiple times. When his own men were unable to kill Yelena, he ended up hiring a mercenary to finish the job. In a land where murder is illegal and the price is your own death, you’ve got to be a certain kind of crazy to go so far.
When you consider the fact that Yelena killed Reyad after he raped her and only because she couldn’t let any of the other children she grew up with go through what she did, you can’t really blame her for what she did. The fact that it took Yelena so long to actually do anything about Reyad shows how serious she was about protecting the others. She put up with torture and her own rape, knew that it would happen again, and was just going to keep suffering because she didn’t think that she deserved any better.
Heck, you can tell that she thinks this way from the start of the book before the reader even finds out about what Reyad did to her. Yelena thought that she’d lost her soul through her actions. She thought that Reyad was haunting her because she thought she deserved it, that she should have continued to put up with his treatment of her and killing him destroyed her soul. Heck, she was ready to be hanged for her crimes and was surprised when Valek gave her the chance to live.
Valek is probably my favourite character in this series (though Ari and Janco are close behind him). The way he acts surprised that Yelena was a woman right before offering the job as food taster though kept her in the dungeon for a year on purpose. The fact that he tried so hard to deny his feelings for Yelena, even going as far as to not kill her the couple of times he contemplated it. The fact that Valek refused to act on Yelena’s attention when she was drunk and trying to seduce him because he knew better than to take advantage of the situation. Though his morals might seem skewed to some – since he is a master assassin, after all – I love how he stick to them. Valek knows who he is and isn’t going to apologize for the sides of him that others might not approve of.
Not to mention the fact that Valek was willing to kill himself if he were forced to kill Yelena due to his dedication to the Commander. Oh, and then the fact that he made it impossible for the Commander to find someone else to fulfill the assassination request.
Ari and Janco are my next favourites for some of the same reasons that Valek is my favourite. They both have a strong sense of justice and a moral code that they’re willing to follow above all else. Not to mention the fact that they’re extremely loyal to those they care about. I love the way the two interact with and compliment each other, bringing out the best in the other person. They were willing to risk everything to rescue Valek and Yelena when they were forced into Brazell’s jail cells because they knew what was happening was wrong. They even risked their lives in order to help bring justice to the situation.
This makes the contrast between Rand’s actions so much more obvious. He was willing to do whatever it took to save his own skin, going as far as to give up Yelena to help relieve his debts. Sure at the end he tried to save Yelena and warn her that she was being hunted, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was so willing to sacrifice his friend to save himself. While I feel bad that he ended up dying, I prefer his death over Yelena’s any day.
I can only imagine how much pressure Yelena was feeling when she had to use her newly discovered magic in order to bring the Commander back. The Commander had trapped himself in his mind thanks to Mogkan’s magic and the criollo and no one else – not even Irys a Master Magician – could rescue him. Luckily, Yelena was able to find the Commander in the very memory that she’d accidentally visited earlier on. Reminding the Commander who he really is – that your past doesn’t control your present or your future – allowed him to fight his inner demons. It allowed him to come back to himself and be the ruler that Ixia so desperately needed.
What were your thoughts on Poison Study? While this book deals heavily with the effects of magic, it is not fully explained in this novel. I personally enjoy this take on the explanation of a magical system as it is only book 1 in a series. I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this matter. Do you enjoy a semi-explained magic system, or do you prefer your magic to be fully fleshed out in words for the reader to see?