First book in the Chronicles of Ixia series.
Recipient of the Compton Crook Award and First book nominee at the RITA Awards by Romance Writers of America.
Young-adult romance has evolved to be one of the most popular and diversified genres targeting teen audiences at the moment. The question of how it managed to do that still persists, though, despite the amount of time that has already passed since its official installment as a dominant genre in contemporary literature. Is it about the appealing profile of a brave and selfless heroine, succeeding against all odds? The support of a faithful audience, always falling for the same cliché narrative tricks? The accessibility of a story resembling recycled chick-lit? The game is completely changed by several books that twist around the way one critical eye would see romantic YA.
One of the novels easily fitting this description is “Poison Study”, the explosive debut of American meteorologist turned author Maria V. Snyder. Initially a creative outlet meant to distract Snyder from the stress and boredom of work, the magic universe of Ixia has become the setting for a great series of adventures bringing together charming, as well as morally positive characters. Ever since “Poison Study”, Snyder has sought no limits: the book turned into an extensive series reaching beyond the main storyline and achieving the potential of a spin-off saga. Irresistible through its captivating plot and suave style, “Poison Study” insists to be read in one suspenseful sitting.
The action takes place in Ixia, a flourishing land ruled with an iron fist by the Commander, who refuses any sort of bending of rules. Twenty-year-old Yelena is imprisoned for murder and awaiting her execution when a new chance at life arises: she can become the Commander’s Food Taster and finally walk free, whilst exposing herself to the risk of getting poisoned. Yelena accepts the offer and starts training for the task along with her mentor, Valek. In the meanwhile, she begins to develop strong magical powers that she is unable to control; magic being illegal in Ixia, Yelena could receive capital punishment. While struggling to decipher the hazy, unintelligible memories of her past, Yelena faces the danger of not knowing who to trust and who is out to get her.
One quick and careless read would throw “Poison Study” in the invalidated category of common, plain YA, books that are overfilling every bookshop just because they sell well. The truth is, young-adult fanatics would most certainly enjoy Snyder’s first release as the book encompasses pretty much everything one would expect from a novel belonging to the genre mentioned. Young female protagonist, with a dark past that has helped her grow mature, who discovers that she possesses special abilities that tell her apart from the crowd? Check. Attractive male counterpart who becomes her lover, confidant and partner in crime? Check. Vengeful enemies ready to go to any extent in order to take our main character down? Check. Authoritarian post-apocalyptical political system troubling the evolution of our heroine? Check. The details described above place “Poison Study” in an unavoidable comparison with contemporary literature titans such as “The Hunger Games”, “Divergent” and “The Maze Runner”, and some would argue that it is a rip-off bringing about a mish-mash of these three strongly established stories, if it wasn’t for the actual publication year of the novel. “Poison Study” has seen the light of day in 2005, long before some of the most powerful bestsellers in YA; being a dinosaur of the genre, it can easily be credited for its originality. Surprisingly for the reader, though, the book is a little bit more than just the appealing composition of young-adult fantasy.
“Poison Study” is a profound, dynamic story covering a great diversity of themes and motifs. Romantic love, friendship, family, identity, politics – they all play an important role in the story told by Snyder, who analyses various ideas through the perspective of someone coming of age, a young woman obliged to make some difficult choices in order to survive. I was actually surprised to discover the depth of the message outlined by the author in the book, as I was not used to such an almost philosophical approach in the body of a YA fantasy novel. Regardless, I definitely relished this particular trait of the novel, which would also be the main reason I would recommend it.
Another particular detail I’ve appreciated greatly about “Poison Study” was the compelling love story involving Yelena and her male sidekick, Valek, a trained assassin and faithful soldier thirteen years older than her. Two determined individuals with similar mentalities and devotion to the things they believe in, Yelena and Valek bond really quickly despite the significant age difference between them. The irresistible magical adventure is doubled up by the sincere, yet incredibly sensual romance between the two, proving that no form of evil can resist in the face of love. This narrative aspect of the story is as much enjoyable as it is genuine; in comparison with many other YA novels, the love affair between the protagonists seems to evolve naturally, independently from the careful guidance of the author. Despite the obvious tendency to glamorise love that is usual to YA, the love story in “Poison Study” is highly delightful and unpredictable.
As I was progressing through the book, I could not help myself but go back to my previous experience with YA and notice the repetitive patterns mentioned, which eventually made the read quite bland for me. I ended up wishing I would have read this book prior to coming across other major YA books, that were not as interesting as this particular novel, but encompassed the same fictional tricks; somehow, I could have properly appreciated this novel and spare myself the unavoidable comparison with previous reads. Leaving this particular perspective aside, I still came across some things that I was not exactly happy with. The ending was extremely predictable, as the way good fights off evil and Ixia is ruled again by wellbeing seemed quite a cliché route for wrapping up the story and paving the path for the upcoming book in the series. Also, the little number of female characters other than our heroine, Yelena, struck me as a forced attempt to portray feminism in literature, an objective that I was unable to resonate with. Last but not least, even though we are talking about the first book in a quite lengthy series, I do believe that the lore and the universe of Ixia have not been described well and detailed enough for me to feel completely comfortable with following the story. Therefore, it was hard for me to imagine many of the happenings in the story and also to accept many of the sudden turns of situation concerning the protagonist. Even when taking all these aspects into consideration, though, I found “Poison Study” a very pleasant read that I powered through quicker than expected.
Even though preferences for books are as differing as the genres that exist in literature, I strongly believe that “Poison Study” would be enjoyed even by the most pretentious reader. An extensive novel defying the seemingly golden rules of YA, Snyder’s stunning literary debut represents the perfect kick-off for an action-packed series that will keep the readers on the edge of their seats. Before swearing off young-adult books, try “Poison Study”. You won’t regret it.
Are you afterward determined and interested in reading the book? Then you can purchase it through Amazon.com