Home > fantasy, Genre, YA > Book Review: Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder (Series, #1) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Book Review: Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder (Series, #1) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Image of a digital book cover. A white woman in a red cloak leans around a column away from the viewer so her face isn't seen.

Yelena is on death row for killing a man in the military state of Ixia but on the day of her execution she faces a choice. Become the Commander’s food taster and face possible death by poison every day or be hanged as planned.  Being a smart person, Yelena chooses the former.  Now that she has admittance to the inner circle of the military state, she quickly comes to see that not everything is quite as it seems….not even her own personal history or her heart.

*sighs* You guys. I have got to stop letting people convince me to pick up books using the phrase, “I know you don’t like [blank] but!”  That is how this book wound up on my tbr pile.  “I know you don’t like fantasy, but!” and also “I know you don’t like YA, but!” oh and “I know you don’t like romance in YA, but!” A reader knows her own taste. And I don’t like any of those. I still came at it with hope, though, since I did like one fantasy book I read this year (Acacia).  There’s a big difference in how they wound up on my pile though.  I chose Acacia myself because its reviews intrigued me. Poison Study was foisted upon me by well-meaning friends.  So, don’t get my review wrong. This book isn’t bad. It’s just what I would call average YA fantasy. Nothing made it stand-out to me, and it felt very predictable.

The world of Ixia felt similar to basically every other fantasy world I’ve seen drawn out, including ones friends and I wrote up in highschool.  Everyone has to wear a color-coded uniform that makes them easily identifiable. There are vague similarities to the middle ages (like Rennaisance-style fairs).  There are people in absolute control. There is magic and magicians who are either revered or loathed.  There are all the things that are moderately similar to our world but are called something slightly different like how fall is “the cooling season.”  Some readers really like this stuff. I just never have.  I need something really unique in the fantasy world to grab me, like how in the Fairies of Dreamdark series the characters are tinkerbell-sized sprites in the woods who ride crows. That is fun and unique. This is just….average.

Yelena’s history, I’m sorry, is totally predictable.  I knew why she had killed Reyad long before we ever find out. I suspected early on how she truly came to be at General Brazell’s castle.  I didn’t know the exact reason he had for collecting these people, but I got the gist.

And now I’m going to say something that I think might piss some readers off, but it’s just true. What the hell is it with YA romance and exploitative, abusive douchebags? This may be a bit of a spoiler, but I think any astute reader can predict it from the first chapter who the love interest is, but consider yourself warned that it’s about to be discussed. Yelena’s love interest is Valek, the dude who is the Commander’s right-hand man and also who offers her the poison taster position and trains her for it.  He manipulates her throughout the book, something that Yelena herself is completely aware of.  There are three things that he does that are just flat-out abusive.  First, he tricks her into thinking that she must come to see him every two days for an antidote or die a horrible death of poisoning. (Controlling much?) Second, he sets her up in a false situation that she thinks is entirely real to test her loyalty to him. (Manipulative and obsessive much?)  Finally, and this is a bit of a spoiler, even after professing his love for her, he asserts that he would kill her if the Commander verbally ordered it because his first loyalty is to him. What the WHAT?!  Even the scene wherein he professes his love for Yelena he does it in such a way that even she states that he makes her sound like a poison.  There’s a healthy start to a relationship. *eye-roll*  All of this would be ok if Yelena ultimately rejects him, asserting she deserves better. But she doesn’t. No. She instead has happy fun sex times with him in the woods when she’s in the midst of having to run away because Valek’s Commander has an order out to kill her. This is not the right message to be sending YA readers, and yet it’s the message YA authors persist in writing. I could go into a whole diatribe on the ethics of positively depicting abusive relationships in literature, especially in YA literature, but that should be its own post. Suffice to say, whereas the rest of the book just felt average to me, the romance soured the whole book.  It is disappointing.

Ultimately then, the book is an average piece of YA fantasy that I am sure will appeal to fantasy fans.  I would recommend it to them, but I feel that I cannot given the positively depicted unhealthy romantic relationship the main character engages in.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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  1. September 5, 2012 at 1:23 am

    I am more than willing to take chances on a book or genre outside my comfort zone, but usually those are informed chances based on recommendations of people I trust and research.

    The few times I have taken a chance into more “romantic” novels, I find myself hating the love interest because they tend to be misogynistic assholes who want to domineer their romantic interests, and the women not only allows this, but sites it as a reason she finds him attractive. It just annoys me. I don’t really want to judge people, or even characters on their romantic choices, but it doesn’t mean i enjoy reading about them in fiction.

    • September 5, 2012 at 10:42 am

      I used to be incredibly willing to go outside my comfort zone, but I guess with so many books and so little time, I’m becoming less willing. *Unless* I carefully research the book or it is vetted to me by someone who knows me very well. As you said. 🙂

      I think I’m extra sensitive to abusive relationships due to having had them in my past myself. It makes me more concerned that people be aware this isn’t what one should be looking for in a significant other.

  2. September 5, 2012 at 2:42 am

    I really liked this book–but I also like fantasy and romance. You’re right, a reader knows their own taste. But you took a chance, right?

    I do have to admit, though, I never read any of the other books in this series. No interest.

    • September 5, 2012 at 10:47 am

      Yes, as I said, it’s not bad fantasy, and I can see a fan of the genre enjoying it. The only thing that made me go from a 3 star rating (good but not for me) to a 2 star is the romantic relationship, which skeeved me out. I am highly sensitive to that aspect though.

  3. September 6, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    “he tricks her into thinking that she must come to see him every two days for an antidote or die a horrible death of poisoning.”

    I move that this example be removed from evidence of Valek’s abuse of Yelena, because it’s a trick that every previous poison taster undergoes (it kept others from running away just as it does Yelena). I’m not saying that the behavior isn’t rude, but I understand it, and it makes sense in the context of the story. 🙂

    Pretty much in agreement about the rest of your review, though. The worldbuilding is average, and in particular I’m really tired of super-abusive, prone-to-rape-and-obsessed-with-blood-and-sex bad guys (especially in YA). But I like Yelena, and the series is a fun read.

    That said, I prefer Cashore’s Graceling series better.

    • September 7, 2012 at 10:14 am

      Yeah, I don’t remove anything from a review because someone asks me to. It’s my review, hence my thoughts and opinions.

      Additionally, who cares if it’s something done to every previous poison tester?! If a guy does something to everyone else previously, does that make it ok? Hells no! If a guy treats you badly within the context of your work environment but he “does it to everyone else” does that make it ok that he treats you like that? Also hells no! My point is apt, and it stays.

  4. October 16, 2012 at 2:27 am

    i love this book. its great. yeah i know predictable. but i am offended by this review on this book. i thing its an amazing book full of twists with touch of romance which makes it suitable for all sges.

    • October 16, 2012 at 11:15 am

      I find it very telling that you’re more offended by someone pointing out the abusive romance storyline than by the storyline itself.

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