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Review: 'Poison Study' by Maria V. Snyder

I first saw the title of this in a voted-for-by-bloggers 'Top 101' fantasy fiction reads here.

Even better, this one counts towards both of the challenges I signed up for - hurrah!

What the blurb said:
CHOOSE: A quick death or slow poison...
On the eve of her execution for murder, Yelena is reprieved, but her relief is to be short-lived. She is to be the Commander of Ixia's food taster. Can Yelena learn all she needs to know about poisons before an assassin succeeds?

Her troubles have only just begun, however...Valek, her captor, has a uniquely cruel method to stop her escaping; General Brazell, father of the man she killed, still wants her dead; and someone is plotting against the Commander.

Resourceful and wily, Yelena gains friends, survival skills - and more than a few enemies. In a desperate race against time, the Commander's life, the future of Ixia and the secrets of her own past will be in her hands...

What I would say:
As will become evident, no doubt, books like this are a major weakness of mine. I try to intersperse what I read with more "worthy" novels (more accurately, those I feel like I should be reading) but I can't help but drift back towards a good old fantasy trilogy!

Yelena is awaiting her execution in a dungeon after having murdered her former benefactor's son. The legal system in Ixia provides that the penalty for taking a life is to lose your own, accident or self-defence not relevant. Call me a law dork, but that was a really interesting start for me. Instead, however, of being executed, Yelena chooses to become the Commander's food taster. To avoid her plotting an escape, the (delicious) Valek delivers a dose of Butterfly's Dust, a deadly poison, which means Yelena must take an antidote every day just to stay alive.

Yelena is a fantastic female lead and I loved her contemplation of her soul and whether or not she has chased it away by killing a man. Rather than recovering from her past almost instantaneously, I liked that Yelena seemed to struggle with relationships and trust as a result of her damaging past and I enjoyed the fact that the reasons were gradually revealed, rather than spilled at the end of the book in a more unrealistic fashion because I kept reading in the hope of finding out more.

This was a light read which flowed brilliantly, alternating between the present and Yelena's tortured past. There were fight scenes, sexual tension, assassination attempts and an underlying threat of dormant magic and I loved it. By light, I often mean that it was suitable for younger readers too. This one had a uniquely dark feeling and I liked that the "bad guys" were Bad. Properly bad.

Overall: Plenty of magic, plenty of double-crossing and plenty of twists, this is a great, light fantasy tale with a darker edge than the more common YA affair. I will definitely be following up with #2: 'The Magic Study'.

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