Book: Poison Study
Author: Maria V. Snyder
Year: 2005

The first part of the Study Series leaves the reader with a good feeling inside which lasts for about a night or so. It is a good story. That is it. It’s set in the fictional land of Ixia in some distant past where kings and military generals mastered the lands and where magic was the rule rather that the exception. Commander Ambrose is the ruler of Ixia whose high chair was gained after having killed the King who championed it.

Yelena, our protagonist, has been put in the dungeons after she was caught and indicted for murder. Living in an orphanage all her life she was mentally and physically abused by her captor, a general in the commander’s army, and her son. So, after years of torment, she murdered the son and was caught promptly. After living in the despicable conditions of the dungeons for almost a year she is summoned by Valek, the second-in-command to the commander, for a job which would help her cheat the hanging. The hanging, mind you, not her Death.

Poison Study
Poison Study – Cover

Now, the story tells us that only a person destined for the gallows is to be offered this life line which enables the said prisoner to lengthen his life and, at the same time, serve the Commander by saving him and getting killing him/herself. When Yelena is given a choice that gives her the opportunity to live rather than to be hung she grabs it.

But, of course, there is a catch.

Yelena is to be the Commanders new food taster. Since, military coup is the norm of the era, the Commander is rather used to facing threats in the  form of  poison. The food tasters are initially trained by Valek who is an undisputed think tank for the Commander. The post by default comes at a price. Sudden death just being one of them. Yelena chooses to die tasting poisoned food rather than being hung. The story is interesting. It has its share of magic and romance and moments which you almost take back home.

Valek is a well defined character. Hints of the tall, dark and silent man are all but thrust in your face. He’s honest, smart, athletic and cold and calculating. He comes up with the idea of giving Butterfly’s Dust to the taster to prevent him from running away. The concoction demands an antidote every 24 hours, the consumption of which delays death for another day until the next intake of the antidote.

The relationship between the chief characters is smooth but not unexpected. The classic “prisoner falling in love with her captor” card is thrown in the potpourri to give it a romantic feel. The story is resplendent with lessons in friendship, love, loyalty and spite.

It ends on a positive note and when it does end one wonders whether there was a need for magic in it all. Well, it doesn’t make nor break the story so we can leave it at the meandering reasons of the author itself. Poison Study is a good read, but the reader doesn’t take back more than an average fairy tale.

The author played a wild card with Ambrose’s history. I can’t make head or tail as to the reasons why but then, again, it doesn’t make or break the story, so I’ll give in to the liberating idiosyncratic whim of the author. But, a word of caution, this is the first part of the trilogy. One never knows what happens in the next two books!

It’s a book one night read to their kids as a bed time story and instills in their kids the virtues of good and bad. The story neither glorifies accepted vices nor ignores and belittles random virtues. It’s a story running parallel to the ordinary and succumbs to neither ends of the spectrum of greatness or sheer boredom.

Bookhad rates it an acceptable 2.5/5.

Bookhad
22.05.2013

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