While I was reading this book, I could not put it down, but the ending left me unsatisfied.
About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She’ll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace–and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.
And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly’s Dust and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison.
As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can’t control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren’t so clear—
The premise of this story was interesting. The food taster isn’t exactly a common position for a YA protagonist, and I was intrigued to see what the author did with it. A friend of mine was kind enough to lend me the book, and I dove into the story.
Yelena was a strong protagonist for the story. Headstrong at times, brave but not stupid, Yelena was refreshingly down-to-earth; she never came up with wildly impossible escape plans that so many other captured heroines tend to devote themselves to.
At the beginning of the story, Yelena is in jail awaiting execution for the murder of the son of her adoptive father. The backstory that led her to this extreme act is revealed in small chunks throughout the story, and when it is finally laid bare, it is extremely dark. I usually hate putting trigger warnings on books, but this one needs one (physical and sexual abuse). She clearly carries emotional (and physical) scars from the time before the book begins, but her voice is not dominated by PTSD. Knowing the full expanse of the trauma she endured, Yelena probably should have been more damaged, but I understood how her character developed past her childhood horrors into the strong protagonist the reader meets.
Poison Study is great for fans of court intrigue. The subplots wove together into a suspenseful story of not knowing who to trust or who to kill. The side characters involved in these plots were well-painted, and there were a few of them that I genuinely couldn’t decide if they were good or evil. I liked the characters Yelena befriended, especially the guards who helped her train. They added a lightness and joviality to the plot that Poison Study needed.
The romance was subtle in the beginning of the book, but built and built through the story in a pleasingly natural way. I can’t say that I ever needed the couple to get together–the love interest was flat for me. I appreciated the realistic way their relationship developed, but I was never grabbed by it. Yelena’s affection for the love interest (I was surprised by who it ended up being, so this is purposefully vague) was more “tell” than “show”; she would think to herself “I have a crush on him,” but the reader wasn’t party to any crush-like thoughts.
The most original part of Poison Study was the world building. A fantasy book, Poison Study’s social situation is nearly dystopian, with a strict Commander who overthrew the royal family and dictated a life of state-mandated professions and strict uniform regulations. Ixia, the country the Commander rules, is divided into military districts and governed by a universal code of laws.
In the beginning, I liked this world building. It was so unique and interesting, especially with Yelena at the center of the Commander’s palace, charged with the job of keeping him alive. However, the dystopian nature of the setting made me assume that the Commander would eventually be overthrown. My assumption directly conflicted with the plot, leaving me confused and conflicted. Looking back, I can see that there were scenes that were supposed to make me like the Commander, but they never affected me. It was only in the last chapters that it dawned on me that the focus of the series would be keeping the Commander safe, and by then I had spent an entire novel disliking and distrusting the character.
Poison Study was supposed to be a fantasy book, but it missed the mark for me. The magical elements were vague and unsatisfying. I like it when I can clearly understand how a series’ magic works and what it can do, but I never understood either of those things. The magical characters were cookie-cutter stereotypes for the genre, and none of the conflicts it presented were unique or particularly gripping.
What is confusing about this book is that while I was reading it, I could not put it down. It was addictive and entertaining. But when I sat down to think about the story, I realized that there was nothing special about the book. It was a good plot, but I didn’t get anything new from it. If you aren’t a very picky reader and you just want to be entertained for a few hours, this book is for you. If you crave originality and depth from your novels, Poison Study will probably disappoint. The next book, Magic Study, promises to be more dramatic and fantasy-y, but I don’t think I’ll read it unless someone puts it in my hands.