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