Poison Study is an intriguing fantasy tale which fuses elements of epic political fantasy with romantic overtones; while it doesn’t quite reach its potential, it nonetheless represents an engaging, singular fantasy vision.
Yelena lives in Ixia, a nation ruled by a militaristic oligarchy which has “zero tolerance” as the measure of its justice system’s Code of Behavior. There are no mitigating circumstances which can forestall the imposition of a swift, and harsh, sentence. And this matters to Yelena, as she is about to be executed for murdering the son of one of the country’s most powerful generals (and since she acknowledges commission of the crime, the reason “why” is irrelevant under Ixian law). On the eve of her execution, however, she is offered a unique – if still potentially fatal – reprieve from her sentence. If she becomes the official food taster for the Commander of Ixia (i.e, the country’s ruler), her sentence will be commuted.
Of course, anticipating the thought that she might attempt to escape, the commander’s chief of security, Valek, laces her meals with a poison called Butterfly Dust, a rare concoction which only visits a painful death upon its victims if they fail to take a dose of the antidote each day. As only Valek has the antidote, Yelena cannot leave the castle without his knowledge or permission.
As Yelena recovers from her lengthy stay in Ixia’s dungeons, she blossoms under the tutelage of Valek and others around the castle. She ends up targeted for death by General Brazell, who is still furious over the death of his son, even as she becomes embroiled in palace politics. Despite his position as the Commander’s chief spymaster and assassin, Yelena grows to trust Valek, especially after he repeatedly saves her life. He also begins to see considerable potential in her – potential unrelated to her untapped magical powers (an ability which could itself cost her life in Ixia, where magicians have been banished upon pain of death).
As Yelana and Valek strive to unravel a conspiracy which strives to overthrow Ixia’s government, their relationship deepens. At the same time, Yelana begins to learn that while she may have been an orphan, her lineage may not have been as common or as uninteresting as first imagined. Together with her nascent magical ability, she is clearly a threat to some of the entrenched powers in Ixia – but exactly which ones?
Snyder’s narrative is well-paced and evocative. Her description of Yelena’s plight, as well as her overcoming attitude and her steadfast determination, make Yelena a powerful protagonist. The emerging relationship with Valek is artfully established, as is Yelena’s dealings with a number of other people in the Commander’s castle. The novel is a first in a proposed series, and while the story’s world is not as well-established or developed as in many other fantasy visions, readers will undoubtedly be looking forward to the next installment.
Author’s Note: This article was originally posted at Wallo World.