Honest and lively YA book reviews
Sometimes you've just got to take a chance. A leap of faith into the wild unknown. I'm not a massive risk taker. I like to play it safe, so when the urge to do something spontaneous occurs I like to keep things low key. Like, trying a new flavour of ice-cream, or wearing patterned leggings. My adventure for this week was buying the entire Chronicles of Ixia series by Maria V Snyder blind. I knew nothing of Snyder's trilogy about feisty little chick, Yelena Zaltana and her rather dangerous escapades through the world of Ixia. And yet I was feeling brave, enjoyed the lively cover designs and snapped up all three novels. Living life on the edge!
Turns out Poison Study was pretty great. We are thrown right into the deep end from page one, joining Yelena as she is dragged through the castle to face her supposed execution after she is found guilty of murder. She is spared, however when she is offered and accepts an alternative to immediate death: to become the Commander's food taster, testing his every dish, drink and dessert for assassin's poisons, living in constant danger of receiving a deadly dose herself. I loved this idea. It's fresh, different and interesting. There was a wonderful tension built, helped along by the setting of gloomy old castle still in turmoil and political unrest following the Commander's capture of the state of Ixia several years previously. Potential assassins lurked around every corner!
The pace was mostly fantastic. There were certain lulls in the story but nothing to send me to sleep. There was plenty to hold my attention. I enjoyed the uncovering of the "mystery" - What was Brazell after? Who was trustworthy? What were the characters true personalities and motives? It all unravelled neatly, piece by piece.
Characterisation was decent, if a little puzzling at times. I very much liked Yelena as the narrator and main character. She was smart, strong and scheming; brave and independent. If she wanted to know something she damn well went to the library and looked it up! If she wanted to master a skill she worked, practiced and earned it! She stood up for herself, she was curious, she had talents and interests beyond the walls of the castle where she lived. She was likeable as the underdog. What puzzled me was her relationship with Valek. I loved him! He was awesome! I could have read about his shenanigans all day but ...... It was all a little too convenient at times. Oh, yeah, he just happens to be dropping by every time Yelena is cornered or getting beat up by some bad guy. Really? It got a little grating after a while. I mean, does he have nothing better to do than follow her around all day, making sure she doesn't get caught up in yet more trouble? He's supposed to be the head Spymaster. Doesn't he have, like, spymaster things to attend to? The thing that bugged me most of all though, was Valek and Yelena's transition from captor and prisoner, through teacher and student, onto boss and employee until Bam! They're lovers! I feel like there wasn't enough development of their relationship for them to believably fall in love. Valek has the power to decide wether Yelena lives or dies. Her life is literally in his hands. Several times he poisons her to test her abilities to detect dangerous, possibly fatal substances in the Commander's meals. He knowingly turns a blind eye when other staff members persist in bullying Yelena, and he places her in potentially harmful situations more than once. This doesn't seem like an ideal foundation to build a loving relationship on. To be honest, it felt more like Valek was testing Yelena to assess her suitability to become his second-in-command than sizing her up as a potential life partner. I mean, never once did my boyfriend have an army, complete with a pack of trained dogs chase me through the woods all day before agreeing to date me .....
Despite this, when they did fall for each other the subsequent relationship was nice. It was sweet. I can't say anymore than that because it didn't really run any deeper than those superficial adjectives. I'm hoping their love will be built on through the rest of the series though, because despite my misgivings about the way the relationship came about it, what little there was of it seemed well written. Valek and Yelena are equals. Yelena has her own strength and skills without needing Valek to hold her hand (mostly!) She's no wallflower and she's no simpering damsel in distress. Valek admires Yelena for her courage, intelligence and determination. And Yelena admires for Valek for more than just his rippling abs (although they are mentioned a couple of times, no harm in that .....) I just feel like it all came together right at the end of the story and there was no time to see where their relationship was going to take them, or how they interacted once the tables had turned and they were seeing each other in a new light. But I guess when writing a trilogy, if everything is revealed in part one, there'd be nothing to write about in parts two and three .....
I generally so enjoyed the story as a whole. I like simple, uncomplicated, well plotted stories. I can't stand cryptic "messages", or lessons. I don't like stupid symbolism. I just want to enjoy the adventure. And I did. Poison Study was brilliant for that. There's not an overload of flowery description. It's pretty blunt and to the point. There's no shying away from broken noses and arms, blood spraying all around and waking up in a puddle of vomit (Yelena seems to puke a lot ...... ) but it never seems gratuitous, it just adds to the tension and the overshadowing constant threat of death hiding just around the corner haha! The momentum does slow somewhat during the second half of the book, and some of the conclusion seems slightly cobbled together but it's not a deal-breaker, just means a one star deduction.
Is that honey in my peppermint tea, or are you just trying to poison me? Over and out lovelies!